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PAINTINGS 1990 - 2000

S. B. Kennedy



In the 'Odyssey' paintings, the vessel becomes a symbol of the individual voyaging into the unknown. In terms of imagery there is in these paintings no contextual reference, we are literally 'at sea'. Most of the compositions are divided into two distinct areas, one representing the safe passage behind us, the other, often shown with the prow of the boat touching it, representing the unknown. Meridian and Transposition, both 1995, illustrate the point, although the former picture is unusual in its vermilion colouring, for most of the others consist of dark blues or ink-blacks with only the occasional relief of lighter umbers and gold. Besides the image of the lone boat our attention in these works is held by the vigorous application of paint which often animates the entire surface of the canvas, as, for example, in De Profundis, 1995. Indeed this emphasis on the existential process of painting informs much of Madden's oeuvre. The theme of the Odyssey and Icarus pictures, of course, is ancient, and Madden, in her own phrase, sees it as 'essentially tragic'.


(Odyssey IV) Focus, 1995 - Fata Morgana, 1995 - Meridian, 1995 - Transposition, 1995 - De Profundis, 1995

The 'Icarus' pictures... represent the most recent phase of Madden's development as a painter. As with the Odyssey pictures, though in part autobiographical, the artist acknowledges that they also represent a journey in paint. By now all traces of narrative has gone and we soar, with Icarus, totally free in spirit.
Madden's compositional technique is uncomplicated. She begins a picture with a general idea of what she wants to say, rather than with a definite image in mind, and as the painting progresses the real subject matter evolves from a corps à corps struggle. She used to think that the resolution of a painting came about by chance, but she came to realize that it was what she calls the 'painting painting itself'.


Downfall, 1997 - Plummet, 1997 - Flagration, 1998-97 - Limit, 1997 - Turning Point, 1996


The (Icarus) Orbit composition, 1998, is one of the most important and impressive of her recent works. Here, two canvases abut one another and are read as a single unit. Here two 'birds' soar in flight, drawn inescapably to the sun as a moth to candle light. There is no contextual setting, but the image is easily understood and, due to its large size, as spectators we are subsumed into the composition and so share the exhilaration - and, ultimately, the fate- of the birds. Despite the vigorous brushwork, all is calm, a triumphant pas de deux enacted before our eyes.