The final three pieces, by Damien Flood, speak of a different experience of tenderness altogether. Two are oil paintings, still-life-like. Paint Brush Cup of Flowers shows a vase of decaying flowers, sitting on a table cloth with a floral pattern. The former are tender for they are real and perish, the latter tender in their dainty mimetic repetitiveness. Flood is reminding us, perhaps, that desire can only be experienced in the permanent struggle between the authentic and the performative, one impossible to distinguish without the Other.
“He always has something that's slightly disruptive,” Fitzjohn said of the Irish painter. The exhibition closes with a small ceramic sculpture by Flood named Grinner Brother - a crouching cadaverous figure, surely inspired by Latin American indigenous imagery and Mexican folk Catholicism. It sits on an upholstered plinth with various golden details and poses as the unequivocal memento mori of Try a Little… Tenderness. But whose or which death it is pronouncing it’s hard to tell.
“I think that tenderness is something that we should think about quite a lot, especially in the art world,” Fitzjohn said when asked about the importance of such an exhibition in such a space at such a time. “To me, as a curator, bringing together the work of such very, very different artists in a cohesive way, is something that is just so exciting,” she added.
The topic’s complexity and malleability added an extra challenge, but also opened up the opportunity to do something different from what is usually seen in traditional exhibitions. This is not a grassroots art show doing away with structure and curation, but it does break the mould of most brick and mortar galleries. “I just think you have to be playful, especially in the art world. It can be so stuffy and serious,” Fitzjohn insisted. “You can be playful, but it can still be fine art and you don’t need to be too snobby, for lack of a better word.”
Fitzjohn wants to democratise the enjoyment of fine-art. Liminal Gallery started off as an online enterprise, mostly promoting solo shows. Now it’s an actual, if minute, space. It’s outside of a large urban centre but still firmly placed on the arts circle. It is also a podcast of one hour conversations with the artists Fitzjohn works with. It is accessible, if not always available (the gallery opens on Thursdays and Saturdays, or by appointment). It embraces the contradiction and, by doing so, invites the transgression.
Try a Little… Tenderness is a gem precisely because it finds itself at the junction of a series of conflicting and yet complementary events: political, geographical, artistic and philosophical. In a month so often dedicated to commercial interpretations of the erotic, it demands we think about the tender. It provides important viewing, it provides important questioning. It does what art is truly there to do. And if that doesn’t prove enough of a reason to visit it, I don’t know what will.