Jane Irish: War Is Not What You Think. A Collaborative Exhibition of the La Salle University Art Museum and the Connelly Library
Introduction to the Art Museum Exhibition
The artist’s movement through time and space is echoed by the performance of the mind. Walking forward, one leg stays behind, then propels forward in a continuous dialogue between past and present. The body leaves traces of its passage, footprints vivid and fresh, then faded into blue. These residues leave lasting imprints, blending lived experiences with nostalgic memories, and surface in the imaginative representations of the artist.
The contemporary fascination with the past, and its relevance for the present, inspires the work of Philadelphia-based artist Jane Irish, who has spent the past ten years sifting through the Connelly Library’s special collection, Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War. Through her paintings and ceramic vessels decorated with pastoral landscapes, people and poetry, Irish explores the enduring impact of the Vietnam War, highlighting the heroism of the soldiers as well the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, both of whom fought valiantly for freedom and peace.
Drawing from imaginative materials rather than documentary archives, Irish’s work raises important questions of meaning and interpretation in our understanding of the past. What is “true” history, and who decides what is to be remembered? What does it mean to re-enact past events, and to re-interpret history through the ever-changing lens of the contemporary? As Irish’s sketchbook creates a foundation for future work, the rare books and manuscripts offer the artist an interesting locus of intersection between past and present, where the seeds of the imagination can grow and flourish.
With her Conversations, Irish adds another layer of imaginative renderings to the multimedia Vietnam War collection, in a creative dialogue that weaves strands of connection between past and present, and that engages the viewer in an evolving interpretation of history. Her artwork sets the stage for re-activating the past in the present, for memorializing patriotic lives, and for protesting injustices that continue today.
War is not what you think, but a giant screen of imaginative renderings, made out to be glorious by the media. While Irish commemorates the bravery of both soldiers and protesters, she also explores the façade of public perceptions. Behind the rich Rococo surfaces of her paintings, we find human lives disrupted by violence. We see societies separated by thousands of miles intertwined in a life-or-death struggle. We discover the stark human emotions of survivors and witnesses, expressed in a creative panorama of images and text which blends fact and fiction, horror and beauty, history and performance. Finally, we see the traces of the artist herself, of her personal journey to Vietnam, and of her footsteps in a landscape at once pastoral and lost, folded into memory and recollection.
Klare Scarborough, Ph.D.
Director and Chief Curator, La Salle University Art Museum