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PAINTINGS 1970 - 1980

S. B. Kennedy



These compositions are characterized by the use of vertical lines, spaced unequally and running parallel with the full height of the picture plane. The visual effect is reminiscent of the standing stones found marshalled in passage graves, yet they evoke no sense of context. They are, in Dorothy Walker's words, like 'giant forms emerging from the darkness of pre-history', sombre and brooding in their (usually dark red or blue) monochromatic colour scheme. Alignement II, a diptych of 1972 (Fondation Maeght), Pyramid, 1977 and Menhir, 1979 (An Chomhairle Ealaion), are all typical examples and show Madden's ability to make use of familiar (Irish) images as 'emotive charges', even if they are abstracted to the point of disparition. Like the monuments from which they are derived, these compositions, with their striated marks similar to those found on Stone-Age megaliths, often evoke a sense of densely worked surface. Eventually Madden felt she had to break free from these paintings. She herself has explained this:


When I felt I was coming to the end of the megalith series, I introduced a horizontal line at the top of the vertical form, making an opening - for me an opening in my painting as well as an exit from these vertical canvases. These openings, doorways, windows, are metaphors of the artist's vision as well as openings into possible space, psychic and physical, interior and exterior, of the mind and of matter.

Thus these 'openings', literally, provided an exit from the megalith pictures and a path of progress which, changing tack from time to time, she continues to follow.


1982 - Megalith 14, 1971 - Megalith (Pierres Levées), 1974

Amongst the first of her new paintings done at this time were Door into the Dark ( FRAC, Provence Cote d'Azue) and Portail, both 1982, and Elegy, 1984 (Museum of Modern Art Nice). The former, with its cold blacks and blues and thinly layered paint, is forbidding, full of uncertainty at what may lie (metaphorically) beyond the partly opened door; in Portail, by contrast, the architecture of the doorway is more certain, the colours (pinks and dark purples) less menacing and applied with assurance, beckoning our progress; while in theElegy composition the architectural framework is rigidly defined to form a grid of openings. The colour and mood are sombre and dramatic.


Elergy, 1984 (M. A. M., Nice) - Triptych, 1982 (Musée Picasso, Antibes) - Portail, 1982


There now followed a series of pictures taking as their subject matter the theme of Pompeii, the Roman city destroyed in 79 AD. Madden's attention had been focused on Pompeii by a postcard of a wall painting from the city; it also suggested itself to her as a symbol of the ever-present possibility of death or sudden destruction.