The northern Irish artist William McKeown made paintings, drawings, prints and installations that captured the openness and transcendent power of nature.
Guided by a belief in the primacy of feeling, his paintings took on the guise of objective minimalism and the monochrome, but presented the viewer with so much more: nature as something real, tangible, all around us, to be touched and felt. Each of the paintings in this exhibition is slightly off-square, undermining the perfection of geometry, and scaled roughly to the size of the human chest, as if mirroring the capacity of our lungs to breathe in air.
McKeown’s works act as windows onto the world – an escape from the repression and mundanity of everyday life and into the lightness and expansiveness of the sky, using subtle gradations of tone to create moments of exquisite beauty and bliss. Frequently using titles such as ‘Hope’, McKeown steered our attention to the air around us, capturing the feeling of our emergence into light and reminding us of our proximity to the infinite. McKeown’s paintings are accompanied by a work by Japanese ceramicist Kazunori Hamana.
Drawing upon ancient traditions of ceramics in Japan while cultivating new, inventive techniques in shaping, glazing, colouring and firing, Hamana makes large and delicate vessels out of natural clay sourced from Shiga Prefecture in Japan. Inspired by traditional Japanese tsubo, functional clay jars dating back to prehistoric times, he creates each sculpture by hand, making use of improvisation and experimentation. Hamana is guided by his awareness of impermanence and thetransience of earthly things, and a deep philosophical interest in how the universe functions on micro and macro levels. The exhibition is curated by Jonathan Anderson, Creative Director of LOEWE and JW Anderson who has been a long-time admirer of the work of William McKeown and Kazunori Hamana. An active supporter of the arts, in 2016Anderson founded the LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize, the world’s first international award for contemporary craft and in 2017 curated a major exhibition Disobedient Bodies exploring the human form across art, fashion and design at The Hepworth Wakefield.
Housed in Château la Coste’s new Drawing Gallery, the final building by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Rogers, McKeown and Hamana’s works enter into a dialogue with their magnificent setting. The 120-square-metre gallery is almost entirely suspended off the ground, cantilevering 27 metres over the hillside.
The gallery contains a full-height window looking out over Ch teau La Coste’s proven al countryside setting and opening up onto the sky – beautifully reflecting the airiness, openness and expansiveness of McKeown’s paintings, and the meditative nature of Hamana’s ceramics.
William McKeown was born in Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1962. He was living and working in Edinburgh at the time of his death in 2011.