‘But now he knows these hills, that is to say, he knows them better, and if ever again he sees them from afar it will be I think with other eyes, and not only that but the within, all that inner space that one never sees, the brain and heart and other caverns where thought and feeling dance their Sabbath, all that too quite differently disposed.’
– Molloy, Beckett
And so, Samuel Beckett describes ‘C’s new perspective, rambling over clusters of country hills, of the spirits that reside in other caverns. Achaintre’s drawings are neither, necessarily, of old men nor those of figures rambling over craggy hills, but rather her drawings are of murky, inky forms, the apparitions of thought and feeling dancing upon her grids and pat- terns. They appear from a range of patterned grounds, from concentric circles resembling the electric prisms of Sonia Delaunay to the clear graphic contours of Constructivist design, the bold coloured diamonds of a Harlequin’s silk, or dauby zebra stripes of a juvenile jailer. They have been layered with coloured inks, channelled through masking fluids to dry, are then washed over and the process begun again, so that these grounds seem as spectral as the figures they hold. They are not backgrounds to carry the illusion of space, but rather the illusion of theatre, a vibrant enclosure for her many phantasms.
Mikhail Bakhtin developed a theory of the carnivalesque in Rabelais and His World (1965) where the human body is celebrated and indulged in acts of bodily excess, part of a grand- er parody of the medieval institution of the church. Consumption of all kinds was endorsed by this ritual pre-Lent performance, satiating those who took part and tiding them through Lent. Evolving from Dionysian practices and the Roman Saturnalia, this ritual cloaked its participants in extravagant masks and costume. This fancy-dress parade provided temporary reprieve from civic and judicial law, glorious, temporary lawlessness.
In Achaintre’s recent work, appear people of the carnival. Their masks are often shaped in clay, distant relatives of the Neolithic death mask, the medieval knight’s mask, the defensive mask of a plague doctor, the Fang mask of Bantu sorcerers, the Papierkrattler masks of the carnival parade. In her work they are not ordered according to historic or geographic provenance, but loose interpretation. In ‘Gream, Panto and Waffler’ (2012) ceramic masks, mounted on anthropomorphic modular plinths, lunge forward or recede back, giving real posture to her lively ghouls. Here, in this show, Achaintre’s spooks appear in drawings. The villain, the hero, the wretched, the brazen, the meek, the damned and the elected, they are all here. ‘Mooner’ glares forward at us, his angry red eyes burning through the black mask, an aggressive front for his real soft pastels in view behind. ‘Meater’, on the other hand, is all action behind the mask. Masking fluid marks out the skin of a face but beneath this, in orifices of eyes and mouth, bright colours jostle together to depict a pulsing inner world. ‘Bel- leMur’, in contrast, assumes an air of discretion. The fine features of her face, below her hair, tied ceremoniously high and full above her head, and above the outline of her décolletage, reveal a face that refuses us its expression. She leans toward us to meet our gaze head-on, a constellation of yellow lights behind her only adding to the willful bedazzle.
And the impact of these characters is so intense that even Achaintre’s more abstract forms become personalities now. ‘Kriss Kross’ facial expression is obscured by black zigzag- ging verticals but appeals nonetheless through vaporous shades of pastel leaking through. ‘Hydro’ sits suspended on his aquatic background, with the obtuse pout of a Picasso side- profile. Each of Achaintre’s many characters is intoxicating and provocative, a chorus line of perversity, alchemy and non-conformity. Hers are views of other caverns, where thought and feeling dance their Sabbath, all that too quite differently disposed.
– Isobel Harbison