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Irish Times : Michael Ashur at the Hendriks

IrishTimes : Paintings By Michael Ashur

Michael Ashurs exhibition at the Wexford Arts Centre

Artist Quote


Michael Ashur’s paintings are flat, very flat, covered as they are with just fine layers of paint. But with these fine layers he works illusionistic miracles, plunging us into the depths of space. Ashur takes us on cosmic excursions, visiting supernovae, glowing star fields, incandescent galaxies.

There is more than a touch of “2002: A Space Odyssey” that kind of transcendental science fiction, to his work. Instead of presenting us with conventional images of outer space, he constructs sometimes incredibly elaborate geometric frameworks, like complicated crystals, through which we can glimpse the galactic clouds and myriad individual stars and star clusters.

The effect of these crystal like outlines is to play tricks on our eyes, drawing us in and out of the picture of space. In fact, there are often two distinct levels of space in Ashur’s paintings: the close, shallow space and the distant, incredibly deep space beyond the surface, where the cosmic fireworks sparkle and explode.

In fact, without the intricate surface patterns, he would find it much more difficult to convince us of the immense scale of what lies beyond. But convince us he certainly does and the pictures with their ethereal otherworldly air, their ability to transport us out of workaday reality, have a devoted following in Europe (especially Switzerland) as well in the artists native Dublin.

Aidan Dunne
Chief Art Critic, Irish Times
The Irish Times


To all but the scientist or astronaut the precise significance of Michael Ashur’s paintings at the Arts Council Gallery must be a mystery, but it is the glory of his art that it is at once exhilarating and delightful to someone ignorant like myself. The precision with which he places the coruscation on his richly coloured backgrounds is wonderfully satisfying and the control of the flickering silvers and blues as though an etchers needle has been used. The smaller pictures are particulary exciting bringing as they do a close contact with the world beyond what is immediately observable. Strict geometry is not only decorative – the hexagons, triangles and elipses are defined purposefully, but they also have a sensuous appeal and colour generally is in accord with that appeal.

These paintings indeed have a mathematical satisfaction in combination with something that is romantic and joyous. They do not overwhelm with immensity of the universe, they are concerned with its beauty, the glory of light and colour. There is one painting “Solar Time Slip I” – that has a suggestion of a certain being about to be lifted. To confront these pictures is to feel a lift of spirit before a revelation.

Ray Rosenfield ::: Irish Times


Hollywood hype had nothing on some of the great master painters like Rembrandt, Rubens, Reynolds of Benjamin West. Their big historical paintings were released to the public in special halls like must-see blockbuster movies. With the public queuing often for weeks, all that was missing was the popcorn.

Which gave Michael Ashur the idea of hiring the RDS to launch “Tower of Babel” – a hug 16 ft by 7ft apocalyptic acrylic, which has taken him two years to complete. “I’m virtually building a gallery in the Lawn Room for the two-week show”, he says. “I’m painting the walls white, putting down a carpet, free hanging all the paintings and installing lighting”.

Although its title is biblical, the panoramic painting of a disintegrating cosmic crystal is anything but Cecil B DeMille. “Contemporary society is like the King who built his Kingdom up into the heavens and then defied God. We’re building our structures and then saying to the earth and the environment, I defy you. “So at the last minute I show a bolt from the blue disintegrating the whole vast crystal, breaking up even the sky around it. It’s a way of picturing the possibility of what could happen if we don’t look out”.

Seeing Cinerama prompted Ashur to paint big. “The Sheer impact of the huge screen astounded me. I wanted to create that panoramic view on canvass”. When he applied for the College of Art, four men had to carry in the large-scale painting that made up his portfolio.

He’s drawn to the heavens since his father bought him a telescope as an 8 year old. His interest in the exploding stars and multi-coloured nebulae comes from astronomy rather then science-fiction (“that’s some elses interpretation of space, and no use to me as an artist”).

Yet for all their apparent geometric abstraction, Ashurs paintings are rooted in nature: it’s just that the landscapes that inspire him are out in the galaxies rather than the familiar sea and countryside of our own planet. “We live in a goldfish bowl and seldom see outside it”.
There are things you can walk around within Ashurs paintings. You can easily imagine yourself being there. “Anything we can imagine, can be done. Its just that it mightend be done in our lifetime. Science fiction keeps becoming science fact”

Ciaran Carty ::: Sunday Tribune


Michael Ashur is a solitary figure in Irish painting, who is neither a Romantic landscapist on the one hand nor a follower of Pop, Minimalism or the New Expressionism on the other.
There is, certainly, an element in his imagery, which suggests popular science fiction or the flashier type of record-sleeve design: but this is superficial. It is a skilful distillation from the age of space and speed, subtilised by an abstract (or post-abstract) sense of design and pictorial geometry. As such, it recalls the Hard Edge abstract painting of the late sixties, but Ashur allows himself vanishing points and horizon lines in his perspectives. The pictures are not flat and two dimensional, they suggest an almost surreal infinity. And indeed, what they deal with in infinite- the Universe, stellar space, the stars and planets, the vertigo of sheer space without time.

When he first exhibited (at the old Hendriks Gallery in Dublin) I admired the brilliance of the imagery, with its layers of light and bisections of colour, but I felt that the surface was brittle and without resonance. But he has gained steadily in painterliness and subtlety., and in sheer depth in virtually every sense. Possibly – I cannot say from any personal knowledge – he has studied some of the effects of artists as Vasarely and Stella, who at first mention seem radically different, yet embody facets of the same Zeitgeist. He has learned the tension between flat design and recession, so that his pictures can be “read” on several dimensions at once.;. And he has greatly enriched his sense of colour, so that the latest works have powerful orchestral resonance.

Humans have always fantasized about the stars, the planets and outer space, and since the Babylonians they have charted the skies with a mixtures of terror and fascination. Traditionally the stars were either gods or messengers from the gods, -perhaps, as Velikovsky and others insist, these are semi-conscious folk memories of prehistoric cosmic catastrophes in which our small planet was involved. Today the skies may be still menacing, but they are also a challenge as the oceans were to Columbus and Drake and Magellan. Potentially our earth is now a taking off point rather then a terminal.

However, Ashur’s response to all this is not that of a fabulist, or even a scientist, or a science-fi buff. He is a painter, whose imagery grows out of formal disciplines and invention as much as his imagination. His pictures can be enjoyed as compositions of colours, lines and forces quite independent of their imagery, striking as that often is. Apart from the skies, he is aware of modern technology and of the very twentieth centre obsession with light, both prismatically and in stark contrasts. And while there is a strong sense of drama and dynamism in his work, his pictures also have a carefully composed stillness and coolness. The colours are often brilliant, but when analysed, their effect is not lurid: they have been calculated with exactitude.

Paintings such as Ashur’s needs space (no pun) so without being gigantic, the dimensions of his pictures are sometimes large. This gives them considerable carrying power, but they also stand up well to close viewing, when the craftsmanship can be studied. He has kept to the path he set out on and seems set for new explorations, travelling in the spacecraft of his imagination.

Brian Fallon
Former Chief Art Critic, Irish Times


For ten years now, Michael Ashur has been exhibiting at the Hendriks Gallery, an while it would be unfair to say that his style has not changed, his subject matter has been basically Science Fiction. Perhaps that is too narrow a reading: you could also say that it is science fact. Ashur’s eye, in fact, roams the firmament.

His flashing nebulae, astral beams and the rest catch you in a kind of paint-and-canvas planetarium. There are crystal and pyramidal shapes, strange metallic gleams and phosphorescent dashes of colour. The subject matter is in ways the equivalent of Asimov in literature and of Stanley Kubrick in film, but Ashur is not a simple illustrator.

His handling has grown more subtle and painterly, his colour has an iridescence which it did not have in the seventies, and in general his pictures function more as pictures pure and simple.

Brian Fallon ::: Irish Times


It might be too facetious, or cunning to say that Michael Ashur’s pictures in the David Hendriks Gallery have star quality. But it is true, in both senses. The subject matter – if that is the word for pictures, which are so abstract, in a sense – is of galaxies, nebulae, outer space and the kind of imagery familiar from the space serials on TV.

It is brilliantly done, and these pictures glow with incandescence of an electric storm. But there is delicacy too: some of the superimposed colours are as filmy as successive layers of transparent coloured gauze. And there must be precious few artist in the country, who can make a circular canvas “work”, Michael Ashur can.

Just by what calculation he works out his sometimes almost incredibly involved geometrical forms, I cannot guess. Vasarely does this kind of thing too, of course but then Vasarely is known to hire teams of mathematicians and computerisers: Ashur, presumably, works them out for himself.

To speak of a twenty-four-year old painter in the same breath, or paragraph as Vasarely is a compliment of a high order, but the comparison doesn’t really hold. The school of Paris painter is a great visionary, while Michael Ashur is, frankly, a virtuoso-his most brilliant effects are calculated matters of technique. One wonders how well these works would wear, in the long run. After the immediate impact, which is powerful, one begins to notice the debt to Op and Pop and a certain lack of sensitivity. But even so, the vitality and sureness are gripping.

Brian Fallon ::: Irish Times


Michael Ashur – he chose his surname for some Loroastrian reason – has produced a collection of Chilling, precise works. His paintings consist of images like symmetrical shards of galactic ice meeting laser beams. And precision, almost perfect precision, in each line and on each canvas, unlike anything I have seen.

Michael uses tiny, tiny brushes – -probably the size of a hornet’s eyelash – to do his paintings. “Once I’ve started to paint I can’t stop” he said. “An idea comes like a bombshell and I follow it.”

He spends much of his time stargazing through a telescope his father gave him – “it makes me feel in touch”. Was not the author of such crazed, remorseless geometry not crazy as well? “Oh, sure I’m crazy. Crazy” he said gleefully. And what about other forms of painting, landscapes, portraits, pastoral stuff and so on? “I’m good at that too. IT may sound pompous but when I do something I do it perfectly. Does that sound pompous?”

Kevin Myers ::: An Irishman’s Diary ::: The Irish Times


These works relate to the power of nature in the Universe and our interactions as humans to it. I use the symbol of geology (crystals), geometry and mathematics to create the work. I would like to think that the work can be used as the catalyst to contemplate our place in the universe.