Michael Geddis and Joanna Kidney,
‘mergeemerge’, Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray
May 9 – June 18, 2022
Published June 17, 2022
Clockwise from top left: installation view, small encaustic drawings (photo Joanna Kidney); installation view, Mermaid Arts Centre (photo Paul Tierney); '204-6', 2018, graphite pencil and pen on paper, 21.5 x 23.5cm (photo Joanna Kidney); '210-6', 2018-19, graphite and colouring pencil on paper, 24.5 x 29cm (photo Joanna Kidney); '368-11', 2020, encaustic and oil on panel, 30 x 30cm (photo Gerry Blake).
The latest exhibition at the Mermaid Arts Centre gallery is a distillation of a body of work jointly produced by Northern Irish artist Michael Geddis and Bray-based Joanna Kidney. Having met at a residency in 2016, the two initiated what began as a visual conversation but over a period of five years became a more extensive collaborative undertaking.
A former veterinary surgeon, Geddis’ practice is rooted in intricate drawing, inspired by microscopic forms, structures and patterns. Using specialist magnifying lenses, he achieves minute detail in his ‘cellular landscapes’  which, despite initial impressions and often technical titles, are not literal but drawn from memory and imagination. Many are rendered in greyscale tones, some (including prints and works on glass) incorporating a colour element.
Where Geddis’ compositions fill their supports, areas of soft and hard-edge rendering lending depth and modulation, Kidney’s works have a more fragmented quality. Many of her drawings, including as paintings and installations, position discrete, often partial forms in dialogue with each other, their material make-up and their surroundings. Together with examples that appear as intuitive visualisations of underlying networks, they are suggestive of an interest in mapping and interrelations.
The points of overlap and difference between these two artists underpinned their shared project with common ground and the challenge of dialectical tensions. Their commitment to working through these, as they were influenced by and assimilated each other’s interests and visual language, has shaped their combined output.
Between 2016 and 2021, drawings passed back and forth between their hands, through the post and by other means. Without engaging in verbal exchanges, at least in the early years, each added to, subtracted from or modified work done by the other, negotiating an increasing level of risk as their creations evolved towards their final forms. 
Although the exhibited works arose from these incremental changes, it seems clear from the first encounter in the show – with thirty-six unframed graphite drawings arrayed across three rows of shelves – that analysing them to identify who was responsible for what would be inappropriate. As the hybrid title 'mergeemerge' suggests, the responsive, time-based process involved in their making has yielded highly integrated works. Familiarity with the artists adds interest, and with little effort, clues could be found as to their contributions, but this would distract from what has been achieved, and give way to an all-too-pervasive differentiating vision.
Numbered rather than titled, the drawings are quietly seductive with much to encourage slow looking. Although they share the common feature of being anchored by a principal complex form, in many cases branching out to connect with less-developed secondary elements, the variations in positioning, scale, types of paper (some plain, some with an acrylic wash) lend a great degree of diversity.
The featured motifs, which are also richly inventive, are an intriguing mix of the naturalistic and abstract. They prompt associations that leap across scales from the minutiae of cell and leaf structures, to the brain, vascular and neural systems, and urban and stellar conglomerations. Yet, the works are not specifically about any of these things.
Some recall Kathy Prendergast’s City Drawings from the 1990s, made by an artist who is also aware of commonalities in patterning at different levels of reality, and of cities as living entities shaped by human intervention and changing needs. Despite being deemed ‘finished’, Geddis and Kidney’s creations are dynamic and open-ended, conveying potential for further growth or dissipation.
The occasional flecks of colouring pencil and pastel, and passages of paint found here and there, anticipate colour as a more permeating formal element in groups of small and large encaustic drawings. Made at a later stage of the collaboration, these utilise the pigmented wax medium which is integral to Kidney’s practice. They suggest the word ‘submerge’ as a suitable adjunct to those in the exhibition title, since linear networks and other deposits lie, as veins lie under skin, within their layered matrices.
Geddis described using surgical needles to achieve a high level of often dense detail  which arrests the eye and is beautifully held by the encaustic. Subtle planar tones were won through interplays of opacity and translucency, Kidney scraping back or building up the material while, in places, gouging surfaces to create holes in which pigment could pool. In developing and expanding the kinds of structures seen in the graphite series, the artists have, together, achieved depth, texture and colour evocations that at times provoke a visceral response.
The reference points that come to mind are, once again, fluid. Among the more ‘topographical’ examples of these drawings, rendered in blue, green, white and lemon hues, some combine with a soft-focus effect (not unlike the inflections noted in Geddis’ work) to read as aerial views of landscape or seascape, glimpsed through a scattering of clouds.
The remainder of the exhibition is given back over to works on paper. They include a selection that are relatively large in scale, made after the early drawings had helped the artists iron out best working practices. Their size and positioning in a low-light, curtained-off setting reinforces the call to unhindered engagement. Interesting features include diffused and hard (masked-off) edges, and alternating two- and three-dimensional effects.
There are also some examples from a corpus of accordion-pleated works that were created either with all surfaces visible or with partial concealment. These offered their makers a freer mode of exchange, in which contributions were left untouched, while being responded to on the next blank page  . As they unfold along the horizontal, this difference is visible in the rolling, shapeshifting forms, which are looser and more playful.
Through a willingness to pit contrasting aspects of another artist’s practice against their own, Geddis and Kidney have manifested seamlessly merged works. These result from challenging each other’s attitudes to control and chance, thought and intuition, the fixed and evolving, fuelled by the energy of shared creation.