Existential Observers

MARK O’KELLY DISCUSSES ASPECTS OF PORTRAIT PAINTING IN IRELAND.

Early portraiture can be viewed as an historical instrument of class identification, patriarchal gaze and institutional hegemony. It could also be argued that, over the years, important significations of portraiture have been exploited and aesthetically challenged through the deconstructive approaches of key historical and contemporary Irish artists. This complex field has huge public appeal and carries immense prestige for artist and subject at the level of national identity, recognition and status.

The historical context for contemporary Irish portraiture and the breadth of current practice have been highlighted in a range of recent events: the Freud Project at IMMA; the reopening of the National Portrait Collection; and numerous high-profile portrait commissions by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), the National Gallery and the Hennessy Portrait Prize. The specific genre of portrait painting in Ireland has been largely sustained through the work of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Such ongoing efforts to collect, exhibit and commission portraiture attest to the importance of the genre within many of this country’s most important institutions. Continue reading “Existential Observers”

Hennessy Portrait Prize 2016

National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 26 November 2016 – 26 March 2017

There are 14 portraits in this exhibition of shortlisted works. Surrounding the viewer on all sides, in each one a lone figure is presented (why no couples or groups?) and this singular focus contributes to the sense we’re in the company of deities. There are also a lot of big heads, their presence dominating the small room at the top of the Millennium Wing’s forbidding stairs. Of course the figure of the artist is also present, directly in the self-portraits, or otherwise implicated. Open to artists in all disciplines, the shortlist consists mostly of paintings, nine in total, along with two photographs, a graphite drawing, a digital drawing and a video projection onto a terracotta bust.

Continue reading “Hennessy Portrait Prize 2016”