Family Audio Tour: Decoration

Abstract composition of shapes in a frame shaped like an altarpiece
Mainie Jellett (1897-1944), Decoration, 1923. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland. Credit

Mainie Jellett (1897-1944), Decoration, 1923

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Transcript

Eoin:
I wonder what this picture is of. A window? Or maybe houses or buildings? Or maybe I can see the outline of a person. I’ve no idea.

Ide:
And that is the idea! This picture isn’t meant to be of anything – it’s what we call abstract art. This artist, instead of painting people, a place, or a story, has chosen to just paint shapes, colours and patterns. 

Eoin:
It reminds me a bit of collage - when you cut up bits of paper and make a picture out of them. 

Ide:
The artist’s name was Mainie Jellett, and when she painted this picture, about one hundred years ago, the idea was so new and modern, people were completely puzzled by it!

Eoin:
I can see why. If there’s no subject or story, what am I meant to be looking at?

Ide:
Well we can start at the colours: yellow, red, grey, gold, and the colourful dots around the edge. Then look at the shapes: straight lines, sharp corners, curved edges. Then think about how it all comes together. Looking at abstract art is a bit like listening to music.

Eoin:
What do you mean?

[sounds, music notes]

Ide:
The shapes are like notes, the colours are like sound, and the spaces between them are like a rhythm. And when all this comes together, you have the music – or in this case, the picture.

Eoin:
The shapes and colours also remind me of a coloured glass window in a church.

Ide:
Abstract art always suggests different things to different people. In fact, some people think the shapes here look like two people: the grey-blue bits are like a mother and the red and yellow bits are like a baby on her lap.

Ide:
And you, what shapes can you see in this picture?  Tell whoever you’re with.

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