Dr. Ann O’Mahony

Dr. Ann O’Mahony in her response to

Anne Harkin-Petersen’s paintings in a show entitled  ‘Tangled Hierarchies’ at Ranelagh Arts Centre opening on 04 April 2013
Anne Harkin-Petersen’s paintings may be read as a series of gestures requiring daily acts of courage. Etymologically, the word courage is derived from the Latin cor, heart , and implies a quality of mind that is tempered with resolution, self possession and bravery.  Anne’s primary gesture of courage is located in the act of picking up a paint  brush.  For a woman in mid-life to take up a positioning in the public sphere as painter/artist, challenges hegemonies that have persisted in the art world of the 21st century.

  Anne’s deep and soulful project through her paintings is nothing less than the creation of portals, that allow her and us to catch a glimpse, however fleetingly, beyond the temporal order into the realms of what Bill Viola describes as “that other thing, that something else dimly felt behind the veil of daily life… this other world interwoven with our own”.  This is Anne’s second gesture of courage. The historian Dr Ester De Waal points to the ironic fact that in an age of global communications which have opened up so many horizons, our inner world has contracted and become narrower. In the process we have lost our awareness of and sensitivity to a deeper sense of mystery. This is a courageous project indeed, a transgression against a dominant discourse that is deeply sceptical.


Anne’s commitment to her project is renewed on a daily basis in her studio practice. Dorothy Walker said of the sculptor Oisin Kelly that like an early Christian he worked for love. Anne displays a similar dedicated engagement. Anne is a scholar with a deep interest in art, its histories and theories. (She holds an M.A. in the History of Art in addition to an Honours Degree in Fine Art) and this is mediated through her intense engagement with the materiality of her painting. Gaston Bachcelard, the French philosopher draws our attention to the fact that the material world instructs us if we are mindful of its voices whispering to us. Anne’s methodologies and art practices are grounded in age old gestures. Mixing pigments with her glass muller, creating alchemical brews of rabbit skin glue to prime her canvases, her  gestures of scumbling, glazing, underpainting, all  provide linkages to the wonder and mystery of light and colour. Thus the artist creates supports to embody and express her theoretical and aesthetic concerns. Anne’s paintings are deeply engaged with the sensuousness of paint and colour theory.  As we contemplate the paintings, references to the traditions of Johannes Itten, Mark Rothko, Luc Tuymans  spring to mind. Anne’s connections to Rothko run deep. A number of years ago Anne and I spent an enchanted hour together before a Rothko painting in a lofty gallery in Tate Modern overlooking St Pauls and the Thames.  In 2010 Anne was awarded a prestigious residency and exhibition at the International Plein Air in Daugavpils birthplace of Rothko in Latvia.  Two pieces of her work were subsequently selected for inclusion in the permanent collection of the Municipal Mark Rothko Art Museum. Anne’s words shed light on her purposes.

In her artist’s statement she writes


“My work attempts to address multiple levels of the maze of the imagination acting in effect as a portal for the world of invention and beyond…traversing the maze, chora of chaos, time, space, my painting concerns itself with the elemental… The constant struggle between logical and sensual, rational and emotional expressed through the brushstrokes and colour choices address the problem of the different voices- admonishing, negating possibilities of beauty, redemption and mystery. Articulating questions of paradox, constant play, delimited and unlimited, telling and concealment, statement and secrecy: act of beauty a gesture of passion.”


Anne’s own words provide us with a glimpse of the deep concerns that underpin her work and her gestures of beauty, passion and courage, – gestures from and of the heart; which if we choose to apprehend speak directly to our own most urgent human concerns.  Anne’s oeuvre, like that of Louise Bourgeois, may be read as an act of prayer/repair.


The art historian and curator Axel Verwoordt, through his etymological research has put forward the word Tra as an intriguing concept to understand art as a doorway for dialogue, a way of seeing things differently, of reversing and revising the way we apprehend our existential challenges. Verwoordt points out that at its most simple Tra is the word ART spelled in reverse.   But for Verwoordt Tra is much more than a mere linguistic device. He has traced the roots of Tra to Sanskrit which occurs in words and philosophical concepts familiar to us – mantra, sutra, yantra. The word mantra translates as an instrument of thought, a repetition of words that help achieve altered states of consciousness; yantras are signs and drawings that act as doorways for healing energies; sutra is the thread that connects all knowledge. The concept Tra is in effect a reminder of the transformative power of art for the artist in her studio practice and as her offering to all who are willing to engage with the work. As Verwoordt states through the age old gestures of painting the artist opens her/his canvases to create an endless world out of which everything can be reborn.

In the sense of mantra, sutra, yantra


Tra is Art

Tra is transformation

Tra is a gateway between worlds  


Anne’s paintings rich in meaning and gesture, invite us to cross a threshold of possibilities. Her studio practice and her artwork can be apprehended as a border of becoming, a domain of potential, pointing to the transformative power within each single moment of our lives. Anne’s daily acts of courage, in her painting gestures (from the Latin,cor,heart) urge us on to our own  Edge of Becoming ; thereby, in Verwoordt’s sense, reestablishing our  connectedness with an awareness beyond our demented public discourses and private self obsessions.  Her paintings which illuminate Ranelagh Arts Centre this April evening offer us not sterile certainties but portals of possibilities and hope. In the midst of  Tangled Hierarchies that beset us daily, Anne has woven for us a precious offering indeed.

Dr. Ann O’Mahony  holds a Bachelors Degree in Fine Art (Honours) and a PhD in the History of Art.

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Bill Viola (2002), Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House.

Alex Verwoordt (2011) Passages, Pilgrimages & Perspectives The Journey of TRA