Shelves of bone white cracked parchments are ghost-like apparitions of their origin: the book and the library. In an age dominated by electronic books and information technology, the space evokes both the familiar authority of these artefacts and their inevitable demise. The contrast at the heart of the work refers not only to the old and the new, but to the stillness of the library against the living, breathing images that dwell amongst the books.
“Ex- Libris,” was derived from the Latin term, “from the books.” This latest show is a consequence of hundreds of sketches inspired by the grand interior of the Strahov Baroque Monastic Library in Prague, where McGrath was granted exclusive access in 2010. With the backdrop of 125,000 volumes on philosophical and theological texts, flora and fauna motifs are superimposed as caricatures of the artist on a timeless stage.
“For several days I studied and drew, visually describing the library, part by part; one frame at a time. Over the last 18 months I have re-assembled these works to re-construct at 1:1 scale ‘library of metaphors’ using metaphors to re-build the compositions and my mental state while in the library.”
An analogy the artist uses of this ‘rebuilding,’ is the purchasing of European castles by the 19th century American wealthy who numbered the stones, pulled them down and shipped them to the new world. The castle would then be reassembled according to the numbers on the stones. However, it could also be reassembled in a random numbering and the ‘new’ castle would be completely unique but still retain notions of its original ‘castle-ness.’ The library in Ex Libris has been rebuilt according to a pattern, a memory or abstraction, an analogy of the creative process itself.
“While spending days on my own in library drawing studies, the feeling of a transient being amongst fixed knowledge was palpable. The stillness of the bookshelves observed via drawings from multiple viewpoints, ones own movement and absence of a trace, is unrecorded in the memory of the library space. Hence this notion of lost motion /memory in fixed space is paired in my work with the images of falling tulips or cornered rabbits, metaphors of transient bodies in continuity of space.”
Ex Libris is homage to the origin of the narrative.