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  • Carol Taylor-Kearney

“Landscapes on the edge”: Kellyann Monaghan and Sarah Roche at Cerulean Arts Galle

First, the title’s quote is from the mouths of artists Kellyann Monaghan and Sarah Roche in their Artist Talk on October 13th at Cerulean Arts Gallery. The talk was in conjunction to their exhibition of paintings and prints called “What the Water Does”.

Second, I missed the actual talk but had the pleasure of viewing it on YouTube, which I will afford to you below:

Third, I almost missed this exhibition but flowed in right before the end. And I am glad that I did! So if you miss the exhibition, take a look at the video and the artwork images at

Kellyann Monaghan.  A Red Flag.  Monoprint. 11" x 14 ".

Kellyann Monaghan and Sarah Roche are a perfect pairing. Just from looking at the artwork

Sarah Roche.  The Spot.  Watercolor.  10" x 14 ".

you sense a strong connection— probably because many of the paintings were done on site, together. As en plein air painters they work out in the elements and this comes through the paintings as atmosphere. You can feel yourself wrapped in the wet grayness and spray, the soft light, and muted colors. But there is also a distinction between styles and approaches. Monaghan works in monotype and oils; Roche works in watercolor and oils. Monaghan has more brushstroke and thicker paint; Roche marks are almost calligraphic and puddlier. Both allow their materials to define and express what is before their eyes.

A clear example would be their paintings of “Blasket Island”. Similar in size and format, Roche

Sarah Roche.  Blasket Island.  Watercolor.  10" x 14".

uses watercolor on paper to give us the islands in the distance while Monaghan uses oil on panel to concentrate on the islands alone. These choices set up a strange dichotomy both in these paintings and between these paintings. Watercolor, in general, is a more transparent, more delicate medium. But Roche gives us a triangular landmass in the foreground, right corner to stand on. We look out to islands masked by fog with stalactite

Kellyann Monaghan.  Blasket Island.  12" x 16".

clouds outlined and poking down. The repetition of oscillating lines throughout this piece creates vibration—I can almost hear the waves.

Oil paint is more substantial, especially when it is applied alla prima—which Monaghan’s painting appears to be. But she leaves the viewer floating before the islands. We could be in the water or in the sky. The islands stand in the mid-section of the painting. And though they feel more substantial than the water or sky, definitely the subject of this painting, they come across as unattached objects in a nebulous world. I am reminded of whales breaching or balloons deflating as they zoom across a room. Which makes me question whether any of this will be here tomorrow.

These two paintings were from the pair’s time in Ireland. But I have to admit, as a ‘Jersey girl, my favorites were akin to my own backyard. Maybe because of familiarity, maybe because they spoke so eloquently to the heartache of Hurricane Sandy, or the beauty and power of water and the shore, the “local” works are expressive and gripping: one being lyrical, the other being dramatic.

Sarah Roche.  What the Water Does.  Watercolor. 10" x 14".
Sarah Roche.  Cedar Water.  Watercolor.  4" x 10".

The blues and blue-greens of “What the Water Does” by Sarah Roche is a color poem to tidal pooling as the sea moves throughout a blissful day. And “Cedar Water” reminded me of the many lakes in my area as well as a favorite quilt being pulled up to tuck a landscape in. Even the stormy “Seaside Storm” and “Seaside Squall” has an airiness that counts on the brushwork to relate the tumult of wind and water—a veritable haiku.

Kellyann Monaghan.  Storm Waves and Car.  Oil on panel.  11" x 14".
Kellyann Monaghan.  Flooded House and Telephone Wires.  Monotype.  11" x 14".

Kellyann Monaghan also relies on brushstroke in her depiction of waves, but her depictions are more swashbuckling. The white waves are built up and take the shapes of a legion of giants advancing on bridges, piers, docks, and roadways. Even the quieted water, the swamps that have flooded out houses and other buildings have opaque depths of ruin. These are fierce and struggling pictures that tell a story of a lived experience.

“What the Water Does” will be at Cerulean Gallery until October 21st.

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