Mandrake : A review by Deirdre Lyons

Deirdre Lyons reviews a recent exhibition of work by Francis Upritchard that took place at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin Sept – Nov 2013.


(a) A Southern European plant (Mandragora officinaram) having greenish-yellow flowers and a branched root. This plant was once believed to have magical powers because its root resembles the human body.

(b) The root of this plant, which contains the poisonous alkaloid hyoscyamine. Also called mandragora

Ten figures each one situated on its own piece of ground (plinth), map the landscape in the Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College, nine seemingly female and one male. They stay for 26 days and then move on.

What is their story? Whence did they come, what journey brought them here, and what is to become of them? Are there any answers to these questions? These ‘sleep-walking’ figures are clad in garments which might indicate they come from a cold or temperate climate, not dis-similar to that of our own. The ‘jester/magician’ (Mandrake) is dressed in the costume of the role; coloured check.

They all stand on ‘firm ground’ – a sturdy plinth made of steel. Like their occupiers the plinths are consistent in design, shape and material and only vary in height. They all seem to have come from the same gene pool and it is reasonable to suppose they have a common creator. All have certainly been mummified by the same embalmer. Except for the hard extremities (made of polymer clay), the bodies are bound and stuffed to form a firm, soft tissue material.

Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ offers a way in. His is a post-apocalyptic story of a journey across a landscape blasted by a cataclysm of a sort that has destroyed most of civilization and in subsequent years, all life on earth. McCarthy’s figures rake through a disheveled landscape in a slow turgidity of manufacture. Upritchard’s figures are frozen in time and we have to work a little bit harder to try and figure out what’s happening. Upritchard’s and McCarthy’s figures evoke a similar bleak existence. In Upritchard’s they appear blind, a kind of storm blasted ‘living dead’. Eyelids, barely open, form a squint and the viewer does not see beyond these lids. They have suffered and/are suffering – in this, credence to their association with human existence is plausible. Their bloodless bodies, barely alive, appear frozen in a timeless space. We are in the land of the living dead, only lightened by the questioning presence of the ‘jester/magician’ (mandrake) who stands apart.

The dilemma of these ‘tortured souls’. The precision of the defined symmetry of the plinth mimics and sets up a contrast with the fallibility of the figures it holds up to the viewer. The fantastical ridiculousness of the designed and the designer, the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’, the hard and the soft are called into question. Who, which, what is going to win out? The future reality in favour of the maker or the made, the alive or dead, the hard or soft?

The ‘jester/magician’ (Mandrake) is the neutral observer of the theatre of ambiguous demise – like us all, alive and half-dead: arms gesturing as if to ask, with a shrug and perhaps a wry smile, what can I say?

Deirdre Lyons
November 2013

Top Image: Mandrake 2013 modelling material, foil, wire, paint, cloth 125 x 88 x 35 cm

Second Image: Liar 2012 modelling material, foil, wire, paint, cloth, hair 100 x 44 x 19 cm

Deirdre Lyons is currently studying MA Art in the Contemporary World, NCAD.