Muirne Kate Dineen

Muirne Kate Dineen is in essence a colour artist. She has worked in many different mediums, but has pared this down to two main elements in her work, both concerned with the concept of  ‘building colour’ as a physical object.

The first of these elements is the process of Araash Fresco, an ancient and complex tradition of Fresco painting believed to have come originally from the area of Rajasthan in Western India and which dates back to pre Sultanate periods in Indian histoty. It is a built surface made up of Marble dust, slaked lime and pigments. Dineen has learnt and customised this practise in order to suit her own work.

The second and more recent addition to her practise is the use of Concrete in her work, a common and universal material, which provides a  different method and opportunity of building colour as form. It is mainly these two processes that are referred to in the description and explanation of images, both in the Art work for exhibition purposes, and her work within an architectural context.

Kate Dineen’s deceptively spare and simple ‘sculptures’ straddle the traditional and the contemporary and embrace both Indian and Western art. Her large polished blocks of intense colour, and her smooth egg shaped sculptures call to mind the formal concerns of an artist like Mark Rothko, as well as the cross-cultural and multi-media range of someone like Anish Kapoor. The complexes of Indian mythology also come to mind, but more than anything, there is pure, intense, luminous colour and an evocative tactile quality: you want to touch them, to run your hands along their smooth surfaces.

Dineen’s initial interest in India was perhaps not so unusual, but the country drew her back over and over, almost against her will; in her words ‘it was the anarchy of colour…’ But that anarchy, as it manifested in the colour and the quality of light there, has been continuously and intensely compelling to an artist already immersed in the visual language of colour.

Dineen graduated with a first class honors from the London Colledge of Printing where she studies Graphic Design. She then went on to attend the Royal College of Art where she received an MA in Textiles and Illustration. In 1988 she received a British council/Commonwealth Arts scholarship to study “Araash” a kind of Fresco painting originating from Rajasthan in Western India. The method, involving the application of many layers of ground marble dust, and slaked lime was traditionally used by a particular caste of Masons, essentially as a way of finishing of walls and floors and giving them a high polished sheen. Dineen eventually earned a studio based PhD from the Royal College of Art that focused on the process. What she recognized was a method of working that could achieve the kind of rich reverberating colour that she sought “There’s something about this – It’s very uncompromising – the idea that I can build a solid three-dimensional block of pure colour, I like the weight of it, the fact that there is nothing lightweight or ephemeral.”

Dineen’s work is anything but ephemeral, though it is about absence as well as presence. In her sculptures and installations, she has eliminated all superfluous detail, rendering each piece down to its minimal and spare essence – the inevitable merging of shape and colour. Still she has given a form that could seem remote and conceptual, a tactility and physicality – even an earthy quality – that draws the viewer in. Some of the square or oblong installations have a seam running down the middle where Dineen has joined one half to the other, suggesting a membrane or skin, with a scar running down the centre. With their intense, luminous colour, there is something nearly alive about these objects – they practically glow. The sensual egg-shaped pieces are based on Shiva Linghams, stones that turn up when riverbeds dry out. The stones, which have been tossed and turned by the river and marked and sworn smooth by the water, are picked up and often used in the context of worship, often to worship Shiva, the Hindu god who represents masculine energy. The shape is phallic clearly, but it might also be read as it’s opposite, an egg form suggesting feminine characteristics of birth and rebirth, sexuality and creation. The very idea of the Lingham, calls up its opposite the (feminine) Yoni, or the concavity into which the Lingham fits. There is always this same sense of balance in Dineen’s work. The simplicity of the forms, which engenders a certain feeling of serenity, recalling Hindi chakras, and abstract representations of gods and symbols – Balancing again with the clean lines and simple repetitive shapes within the practices of modern art.

Dineen’s installations, to a rare degree, burst with colour, rich, lush, deep colour – Blood reds, Lapis blues, rich mustardy yellows, deep pinks. “I want people to be enveloped by colour, to be swallowed by it.”

Her minimal meditative installations do just that, by enveloping and drawing you into a state of contemplation.

In addition to her own personal work, Dineen has also been very interested and involved in working within an architectural context, on projects both in the UK and overseas. Taking and applying her sense of colour and surface as an integral element of the buildings she has worked on. Using large seamless expanses of colour as intrinsic and elemental elements to the buildings for both interior and exterior.

For example Dineen’s collaboration with the Architectural practice ‘Studio Mumbai’ over the last sixteen years has built on her own personal relationship with colour as substance, and it’s role within a contemporary architectural context. She has explored a range and variety of materials and has been drawn to concrete, in part as an antidote to the extreme precious nature of the Araash process. It is an ironic choice, concrete being the material which essentially displaced and replaced the art of Araash within its own architectural context in India in the last century. Dineen has embraced the challenge to find and demonstrate the potential and intrinsic beauty of cement, a universal and cheap material, and to work with it in tandem with her continuing work in the Araash Fresco process, building pure colour as form,  continuing a lasting preoccupation which runs through all her work.

Text taken from articles by Jean Dykstra, courtesy ‘Kashya Hilderbrand Gallery’, and Bettina Von Hase, courtesy ‘Vogue Magazine’.