In a new series of articles, critic and broadcaster Cristín Leach selects 21 artworks for RTÉ Culture that define Modern Ireland.

Number Seven: Gary Coyle - The Penitent (2014) 

Gary Coyle began recording his daily swim at Dun Laoghaire’s Forty Foot in the summer of 1999. The documentation-art that has come out of that ongoing project, including photographs, a water collection, notebooks and performances, are likely to constitute his masterwork.

But Coyle also makes remarkable, large-scale charcoal drawings that pulsate with ominous duskiness, and lurk on the verge of conscious nightmare territory. Feelings of anxiety, aloneness, stillness and unspecified danger are captured in these black-dust-textured compositions.

Gary Coyle, The Penitent (2007), charcoal on paper 116 x 140.5 cm

The Penitent is from 2007, a 116 by 140.5cm-wide scene in which a figure in a hooded tracksuit kneels at the edge of some undergrowth. This is one of a number of drawings by Coyle that feature a hooded male, or a shrouded human figure with their back to the viewer. The title piece from Hello Darkness, his 2012 exhibition at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery in Dublin, contained an image of a similar youth, captured this time in a charcoal-drawn oval, like a mirror, surrounded by a pattern like feathers, or scales.

Gary Coyle - Hello Darkness, charcoal on paper 85 X 120 cm

Coyle’s art is rooted in his homeplace of Dun Laoghaire. His territory is South County Dublin, the duality of which he has continued to explore. In charcoal-drawn images of Moran Park or The Stillorgan Dual Carriageway, he applies a 'sublime Gothic' filter to his home neighbourhood, capturing a sense of disconnect or disjoint. The kneeling figure could be praying, hiding, waiting, begging for forgiveness, threatened or a threat.

Gary Coyle - Haunted, charcoal on paper 125 X 86 cm