Review: Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I am always excited to discover a book that combines my two passions – books and art – and Girl Reading does so exceedingly well. I have been getting into reading short stories more of late, and this is a wonderful collection.

11292802Girl Reading

Katie Ward

Virago Press (2011, this edition 2012)

Short stories – historical and contemporary fiction

This is an intriguing book, it has seven chapters or stories each focusing on an image of a girl or woman reading. I have also seen it described as a novel, but while it does come together at the end, it reads more like a collection of short stories to me. There is a great range in place and time – from early Renaissance Sienna to Victorian England to a futuristic virtual world. Each story is a world of its own, and completely involving at that. I loved how the final story linked the others together, but I also feel each story/chapter was very strong on its own.

Ward creates memorable and compelling characters – the twins who had a childhood career as mediums in the Victorian story are particularly striking, as is her innocent young artist in the Bloomsbury group-esque gathering at Arnault House, and her disillusioned political assistant having a drink in a London bar in the recent past.

I was resilient when I was younger. Headstrong. No one could talk me out of anything or stop me doing something I wanted to do. Recently I have begun to have doubts. Recently I’ve realised that version of myself has gone away.

There is a range of art forms too, from an altarpiece to a sketch to a photo posted on Flickr. The descriptions of the processes of studio photography in Victorian England were very interesting, but doesn’t take away from the story. There is a note at the end of the book (and links on Ward’s website) relating to the artworks that inspired the various stories. However, they work with or without this reference point. Art is central to each narrative, but so is identity, the sitter’s appearance and their inner life.

This is a book I have been thinking about since I finished reading it. The short story is a real art, and Ward succeeded in creating characters who are nuanced and complex, and who seem to live beyond the short page count of their narratives. A book I would recommend to readers with an interest in art, or with an interested in varied and absorbing narratives about women throughout history.


Review: A World of Colour Exhibition at the DLR LexIcon

Displaying World of Colour JPEG.jpg

The ‘A World of Colour’ exhibition in the DLR LexIcon brings together the work of Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna, two very talented illustrators and picturebook makers. The exhibition  was curated by Sarah Webb, the DLR Writer in Residence. Haughton and Alemagna have very different styles, and they make an interesting pairing for this exhibition.

The exhibition showcases original illustrations from many of their best known books, and offers viewers a valuable chance to examine these artworks on their larger original scale. Charming details are evident, and it is a joy to be able to see the mark-making on the page. Seeing originals also allows the viewer to consider the process of making a book, and in comparing the originals to the finished book to think about design and particularly text placement.

A wall showing collages Haughton made when planning A Bit Lost alongside finished illustrations from the book offers a fascinating insight into his process. The information panels, by picturebook expert Valerie Coghlan, give a brilliant introduction to each artist, information about their materials and process, and fun facts too! Her introduction to the picturebook also offers much food for thought when exploring the exhibition. I like that the images are allowed stand alone, only captioned, so the viewers can read the visual cues for themselves or simply enjoy these wonderful images.

There is a wonderful sneak peek of Beatrice Alemagna’s forthcoming book On a Magical Do-Nothing Day which will be published in English by HarperCollins this year. It has previously been published in French. There is a fantastic spirit of adventure and imagination in these pictures, I love the one where we are looking up at the little girl walking through a field.

This exhibition is a delight. From mischievous dogs to sleepy bears, curious children to strange creatures, there is so much to see. The bright and bold colours of Chris Haughton’s work are a visual treat, and one of the rugs he designed for his Fairtrade company Node is also on display. Seeing A Bit Lost on the original scale and in full vibrancy is worth the trip alone. Beatrice Alemagna’s work uses such a mixture of techniques, being able to examine her originals shows this off beautifully. I love her collage work in A Lion in Paris, it’s a marvellous book, and the portraits from What is a Child? are really beautiful.

Ultimately, these images work best in context. Where better to show them than in a library where readers young and old can then go find the books from which the images originated and answer lingering questions. Does the Haughton’s little owl in A Bit Lost find his way home? And what on earth does Alemagna’s lion get up to in A Lion in Paris?

Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna will be interviewed by Margaret Anne Suggs (another wonderful illustrator, see Pigín of Howth written by Kathleen Watkins) at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival next month. This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their art, well worth tying in with a trip to the exhibition. I will be giving family tours of the exhibition on March 26th, do join me!

The exhibition runs until the 31st of March, and is located on the 3rd floor of the DLR LexIcon library.


Ulster Museum Visit January 2017

I was visiting a friend in Belfast this weekend, and I was delighted we could fit in a visit to the Ulster Museum. Their art exhibitions are fantastic, and I haven’t been doing enough gallery-going lately.

Here are a few highlights from my visit.

Bare Life: Abstraction and Figuration in 20th Century British Art

This exhibition explored modernism, and the opposing modes of abstract and figurative art. There was a mixture of paintings, photographs and sculpture.


The highlight of this exhibition for me was the Duncan Grant painting Interior at Charleston (1918) which shows Vanessa Bell and David Garrett at Charleston, the house the three of them lived in. Bell is shown painting a still life and while Garrett is translating Dostoevsky. It offers a glimpse into the world of the Bloomsbury group, an avant garde group of creatives that I have a great interest in.

This is an essay I wrote about the art of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

The New Past: Irish Art from 1800 to 2016

I loved this exhibition. There was a wide selection of Irish painting on show, with works by such artists as Paul Henry, Sir John Lavery, Jack B Yeats, Margaret Clarke, Louis le Brocquy and Sarah Cecilia Harrison to name but a few. The exhibition is divided into sections – Invention, Theatre, Myth and After the Past.

Highlights of the exhibition for me included the wonderful Margaret Clarke self-portrait, Robin Redbreast. It was so different from other works by her I had seen (Stringbergian (1927), one of her better known paintings is also in the exhibition). This work was more realist in style. She has painted herself wearing a red waistcoat, part of the traditional dress of the Aran Islands.  Her expression is so compelling; she looks directly at the viewer and is quite vulnerable. I was captivated by this painting.


One of Sir John Lavery’s many portraits of his glamorous wife Hazel, The Green Coat (1926) was another highlight of the exhibition for me. It is a large scale work, and Hazel’s height is accentuated. She looks off into the distance and has an almost mystical quality about her, like a fairy queen.

Rita Duffy’s Titanic (2002) was another work I hadn’t come across before. It’s a small mixed media work, echoing the texture of the metalwork of the ship. This aspect of the work recalls engineering and industry in Belfast and the presence of the storm and the iceberg point to the tragic outcome of the voyage.

Another modern work I enjoyed was Elizabeth Magill’s Chronicle of Orange (2007). Her landscapes have quite an eerie, almost mystical quality yet details like electricity lines firmly ground them in the contemporary. The influence of Romantic painting is there, as is the influence of photography. Her use of colour is stunning, and I always enjoy her work.

If I had to pick an overall highlight, it would be Alicia Boyle’s Potato Washers (1949). It was a delight to see this as I had researched her sketchbooks as an intern in the National Gallery of Ireland a couple of years ago. Having seen some of the sketches for this work it was a real joy to see the actual painting, especially unexpectedly! I loved the vibrant use of colour and expressive brushwork.


There are many more wonderful artworks in both exhibitions, I would highly recommend a visit if you’re in Belfast. The Elements exhibition was also very interesting, particularly the part about poisons! Several great murder mystery ideas there…

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books for Art Lovers

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and The Bookish, and this week’s topic is Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like ‘X’. My arty books are a mix of children’s, YA and adult titles for my fellow gallery fans.

1) The Hare With The Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal (Adult/Non Fiction)


Image from Goodreads

This is a fascinating tale of the history of netsuke (Japanese objects, typically carved from ivory or wood, used to suspend objects from the obi (belt) of traditional costume. They also functioned as status symbols and art objects) in the author’s family. It gives a wonderful insight into the world of the Impressionists, and is a rich and evocative tale.

2) Wings Over Delft – Aubrey Flegg (YA)


Image from Goodreads

In seventeenth-century Delft, Louise Eeden is having her portrait painted by Master Haitnik. In the studio she finds a respite from the stresses of her life and a freedom to be herself. She also feels a growing attraction for the apprentice, Pieter. A fascinating historical novel, the first in a trilogy about the painting of Louise.

3) To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf (Adult)

To the Lighthouse

Image from Goodreads

Artist Lily Briscoe is one of the central characters in this fantastic modernist novel, and there is much exploration of what it means to be an artist and to create in this novel. Interestingly, Virginia Woolf’s sister was an artist. Woolf is one of my favourite writers, and this book showcases her experimental and inventive style.

4) Chasing Vermeer – Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist (Children’s)

Chasing Vermeer (Chasing Vermeer, #1)

Image from Goodreads

When a famous Vermeer painting disappears, Petra and Calder find themselves caught up in the mystery. They must solve the clues, and find the artwork. This is a fun read, with interactive elements such as codes to work out. There are a number of sequels which I really want to read!

5) From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg (Children’s)


Image from Goodreads.

Two children run away from home, and decide to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, they make some important discoveries about a Michelangelo statue. A wonderfully funny children’s book, those kids were living the dream!

4) The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (Adult)


Image from Goodreads

Donna Tartt’s much anticipated novel takes its title from Carel Fabritius’ famous painting. The novel opens with Theo and his mother visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when terrorists strike. His mother is killed, and Theo’s life is altered completely. A complex and wonderfully written book.

7) The Girl With The Pearl Earring – Tracy Chevalier (Adult)

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Image from Goodreads

While I have my quibbles with the ending of this book, there is no doubt that it gives a fascinating glimpse of Vermeer’s life and has captured the imagination of many readers as it explores one of the artist’s most enigmatic works.

8) Girl Reading – Katie Ward (Adult)


Image from Goodreads

A collection of short stories, each focusing on a depiction of a girl reading – be it in a Renaissance altarpiece, or a Victorian photograph.A compelling read.

9) The Swan Thieves – Elizabeth Kostova (Adult)

Image from Goodreads

While I did not find this book as gripping as Kostova’s debut novel The Historian (which everyone should read!) I enjoyed the art side. There is the modern day tale of a man gripped by the beautiful woman he paints, but also a love story between two painters in the Impressionist era.

10) Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy – Michael Baxandall (Non Fiction)


Image from Goodreads

This is an art history book, but it is one I found so fascinating that I have read it many times. It offers a wealth of information about the creation of art in the Renaissance, and has been invaluable in my study of art history.

Any recommendations of arty books I have missed would be greatly appreciated! And if you’ve taken part in Top Ten Tuesday post a link to your list in the comments 🙂

The Frick Collection, New York


In the Sculpture Garden at The Frick Collection

It has been a while since I’ve had any art on the blog! Visiting The Frick Collection was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to New York. The collection is located on Fifth Avenue, across the road from Central Park, in the mansion of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). The collection opened to the public in 1935 and visiting it is a wonderful experience, as it is still designed to look like the Fricks’ home. It is a Gilded Age mansion, and the richly decorated interior complements the artworks perfectly. Objects from the silver collection and the decorative arts collection are also  on display, giving a sense of the domestic life of this mansion. There are no cordons or barriers, making for a very intimate and very relaxed atmosphere. The fact photographs cannot be taken (except in the Sculpture Garden) also adds to this sense of calm. I think it also encourages visitors to look at the paintings and enjoy the experience of seeing the works in person.

The museum is small enough, which really gives the visitor the chance to enjoy the works on display, and it is easy to cover the collection in a single visit, unlike some of the larger art institutions in New York! The Boucher room is beautifully laid out, with works on the theme of the Arts and Sciences – they have such subjects as Painting and Sculpture, Poetry and Music and Architecture and Chemistry. The paintings are oil on canvas, but appear like wall paintings. In another room there are four beautiful paintings by Boucher depicting the seasons. He uses a woman as an allegory to represent each season, winter wears a cloak and a muffler and is seated in a sleigh. As well as wonderful 18th century paintings like these, the collection features much 18th century French furniture. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of paintings and sculptures with decorative arts throughout the museum.

Among the Impressionist works on display is La Promenade by Renoir. Visually similar to Les Parapluies, this work depicts a governess out walking with two young girls. Renoir’s light feathery brushwork is distinctive in one of his many depictions of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Another Impressionist work I enjoyed seeing was Degas’ The Rehearsal. One of the artist’s many depictions of dancers this painting shows a group of ballerinas practising, with a violinist playing in the foreground.

The Sculpture Garden in the centre of the Frick is beautiful; the statuary, fountain and greenery making a very calm space. In this garden, and really in the Frick in general, it is easy to forget you are in such a busy city!


Seeing the three Vermeers in The Frick Collection was definitely a highlight of my visit. Mistress and Maid (the last painting purchased by Henry Clay Frick) reminds me of Woman Writing a Letter with Her Maid, the Vermeer in the National Gallery of Ireland. Letter writing is a frequent theme in Vermeer’s work, and indeed in Dutch genre scenes of this era. This work also shows Vermeer’s fascination with light – in the reflections captured in pearls, glass and silverware. There is also an ambiguity so often found in Vermeer’s work, as we wonder about the contents of the letter.  Officer and Laughing Girl  also features subtle storytelling. It seems that the girl is entertaining a suitor, and the map on the wall hints to the officer’s profession and his travels. The setting is familiar from other works – it is Vermeer’s studio. Having written an essay on Girl Interrupted at Her Music, I was delighted to see it in person. The theme of music is also prominent in Vermeer’s work, featuring in 12 of his paintings. There are many interpretations of this painting – the man may be the girl’s music teacher, or her suitor ready to partake in a duet with her. However, the empty chair and the way the girl gazes out of the painting could suggest that she is waiting for someone to arrive.

I would highly recommend a visit to the Frick Collection. With its opulent interiors, fascinating collection and very calm atmosphere, it has been one of my favourite galleries. Find out more about the collection here.




Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

MOMA was the first art gallery I visited on my trip to New York. We took advantage of the UNIQLO Free Friday Nights, which gives visitors free entry to MOMA between 4.00 and 8.00pm. Of course this meant it was very busy, but that added to the atmosphere and I feel I got to see the works on display well, and enjoy them.

The collection is very impressive, and includes works by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, to name but a few! Below are some of my favourite works from the collection.

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

This was the painting I was most looking forward to seeing on my trip to New York, and it was definitely the highlight of my visit to MOMA. There was quite a crowd around this painting, but I managed to get to the front and spent a while admiring Van Gogh’s brushwork. It was amazing to see this familiar artwork in person, to see how richly textured the paint is in some places, while in other parts of the painting the canvas is still visible. The sense of movement created by the swirling brushwork makes this a powerful and expressive image. Seeing this painting in person was a very emotional experience, and I was quite moved.

Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat, Evening, Honfleur (1886)

I enjoy Georges Seurat’s pointillist technique, and I loved that it was used here not only for the painting but for the frame too! The application of tiny dots gives the painting an interesting, shimmering technique from afar, the dots are only visible up close. I love the technique of pointillist works, but I also enjoyed the use of colour in this work – particularly the pale sky and the pink tones in the clouds.

Pablo Picasso Desmoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Pablo Picasso Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907)

Another painting with a big crowd! It was great to see this famous Picasso painting in person, especially as it has played such a pivotal role in the development of Modernist styles. A key Cubist work, it highlights the fragmentation and flattened perspective that were to become so characteristic of the movement. Picasso’s interest in African art can also be seen in the use of masks, which give an eerie atmosphere to the painting.


Naum Gabo, Head of A Woman (c.1917-1920, after a work of 1916)

This was one of the works I spotted wandering around the gallery, and thought was very interesting. At first glance, I thought it was sculpted from paper but it is actually composed of celluloid and metal. It is displayed high up in a corner, giving the impression that this woman is looking down at the viewer.


Frida Kahlo, Fulang-Chang and I (1937)

I greatly admire Frida Kahlo’s work, and this was the first work of hers I have seen in person. I love the intensity of her self-portraits, and how distinctive her style is. I feel her self-portraits are very striking and unusual, and give a real sense of her inner life. There was a quote from the artist on the information panel that I feel sums up her work very well: “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” The frame was also very unusual, it was made some years after the painting, from glass which was then painted.


Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl (1963)

Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein’s works and their use of Ben Day dots are a familiar part of pop culture. I was surprised by the large scale of this work, but not by the melodramatic subject matter! This is an early work, and is based on imagery from a DC Comic. This use of popular imagery increased the appeal of his work. He not only sourced subject matter from comics and advertisements, but also copied commercial printing techniques creating a playful style.


Anselm Kiefer, Wooden Room (1972)

This large scale work caught my eye in one of the galleries for its masterful rendering of the texture of the wood. The unusual medium – charcoal on burlap – also added to its tactile appeal. The ‘wooden room’ is the artist’s attic studio, and this added to the interest of the work for me as it is such a personal and creative space. This, combined with the high level of skill evident in the work, made it very memorable and engaging.


Edward Ruscha, OOF (1962)

I enjoyed this work because it is good fun, something Ruscha has acknowledged when speaking about his work at this time: “I was interested in monosyllabic word sounds that seemed to have a certain comedic value to them.” It was another work that I just came across in the gallery – but it is certainly one that makes an impact!


Andy Warhol, Campell’s Soup Cans (1962)

It was really interesting to see two works by the famous Pop Artist Andy Warhol. The Campbell soup cans are so iconic and recognisable that it was strange to see them in person. Created using screen printing techniques, they offer a critique of advertising and commercialism. There are 32 canvases, each depicting a different soup flavour.


Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962)

Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe is also on show, playing on the popularity of the star and how often her image has been reproduced. He creates her likeness in a Pop Art style, against a gold background.

Mark Rothko, No.3/No.13 (1949)

Mark Rothko, No.3/No.13 (1949)

Mark Rothko’s work makes striking use of colour, and the large scale gives an enveloping effect. It is one of many works the artist created using these hazy rectangular bands of colour. The softened edges of the different blocks of colour gives an effect of blending or blurring.

This is only a small selection of the works on display at MOMA. It is a very interesting and varied collection, well worth a visit!

Review: Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 at Adam’s Auctioneers, Dublin


The Summer Loan exhibition in Adam’s Auctioneers showcases a century of art by Irish women. Some of the names (Evie Hone, Mainie Jellet or Lily Yeats) may be familiar, but others are lesser known, such as Lady Glenavy, Elizabeth Rivers or Hilda Geralda Van Stockum. Featuring works in a variety of media — including paintings, prints, embroidery and sculpture — this exhibition shows the breadth of creativity of often under-appreciated Irish female artists. While women artists have frequently been omitted from the canon of art history, the impact they have had on the course of Irish art is undeniable. They have founded artistic ventures such as the Dublin Painters Society and the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and helped establish modern artistic styles in Ireland. The art shown is interesting and varied, and proves that these artists are worthy of more attention than they have traditionally received.

At the Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 exhibition in Adam's Auctioneers. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

At the Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 exhibition in Adam’s Auctioneers. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Previously, in order for a woman to become an artist she would have to be from a wealthy background. Painting could be considered a genteel, ladylike occupation, provided she used suitable subjects. Watercolour would be considered an appropriate medium — fittingly delicate. Rose Barton and Helen Mabel Trevor are examples of female artists working at a time when watercolour painting was first receiving recognition. These works may seem conservative now, but at the time painting en plein air and using exotic settings was different. A professional female artist like Sarah Purser, however, was a real rarity, and she became the first full female member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1924. Not only was she a talented artist, but she was a powerful force in the Irish art world, founding such institutions as Irish stained glass corporation An Túr Gloine. One of Sarah Purser’s works, illustrated below, has been used for the exhibition poster.

Sarah Purser, A Visitor. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Sarah Purser, A Visitor. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

This exhibition also features the work of pioneering Modernists such as Mainie Jellet, Evie Hone and Mary Swanzy. This trio helped to establish Cubist painting in a conservative Irish art world, and their work remains striking today. Works are also exhibited by Norah McGuinness and Nano Reid, who were chosen to represent Ireland in the Venice Biennale exhibition of 1950, the country’s first participation in this international show. McGuinness and Reid had both exhibited extensively in Ireland and abroad, but the choice of two female artists for Ireland’s introduction to the Venice Biennale was still a revolutionary move.

Mary Swanzy HRHA, Cubist Landscape. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Mary Swanzy HRHA, Cubist Landscape. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.


Mary Swanzy HRHA, Eleanora’s House. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Traditionally sculpture, being a more physical art form, has been an unusual one for women to work in. However, there have been notable Irish female sculptors, some of whom are represented in the exhibition. A small bronze sculpture by Imogen Stuart is on display. It depicts a group of children dancing; a public sculpture of the same grouping can be seen in Stillorgan. The sculptures on display are small, mostly in display cases along with books showing some of the illustrative work by female artists. In terms of prints, Elizabeth Rivers’ bold and striking work stands out. The fairy tale quality of Norah McGuinness’ illustrations and the satirical humour of Grace Gifford’s work show the variety of styles to be found in this field.


Imogen Stuart RHA Stillorgan Children. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

The decorative arts have tended to be a female-dominated field, and have been given a lower status. While it has been dismissed, embroidery is a time-consuming art form, requiring great skill. Some of Lily Yeats’ work is on display including her striking night time scene, The GPO. These works are on a small scale, but are impressively precise.


Lily Yeats, The GPO Needlework panel. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

The works in more traditional styles are hung downstairs, with the upper gallery reserved for Modernist works. While the exhibition is rather cluttered, it offers an impressive selection of art. The fact that many of the works are on loan from private collections means this is a rare chance to see some excellent examples of works by Irish women artists. There will also be two films playing in the upstairs gallery, about Mainie Jellet and Estella Solomons. The exhibition will be on display in the Ava Gallery in Clandeboye, County Down from the 7 August to the 5 September.

Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 will run in Adam’s Auctioneers, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin until the 31  July.

 Review originally written tn2 Magazine.

Review: 184th Annual Exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy

The Royal Hibernian Academy’s Annual Exhibition is Ireland’s largest open submission exhibition. Over half of the works were selected from more than 2,300 entries, which are shown with work by RHA members and invited artists. With 567 works by 354 artists, it showcases an impressive array of media, styles and artists. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs are all featured, ranging in style from traditional to modern. The exhibition is typically composed of work by living artists, however there are a selection of works displayed in memory of the late Patrick Scott HRHA including a work from his 2007 series Meditations, which makes use of embossing techniques and gold foil, and follows on from the contemplative themes seen in his earlier works.

The works of emerging artists are exhibited alongside those by familiar names such as RHA member Pauline Bewick. Bewick has four works in the exhibition. Three of these are large canvases in her distinctively linear and fantastical style, but the fourth piece is quite different and not immediately recognisable as her work. Old Woman Remembering is a collage, combining a portrait of an old woman in ink and watercolour with lacework, a doily, drawings, text and postage stamps. The effect is charming, and in a way echoes the dreamlike quality of Bewick’s paintings. Other established artists exhibiting this year include Maeve McCarthy RHA, who has several small nocturnal scenes on display, and Eilis O’Connell RHA (whose sculpture Apples and Atoms was recently installed in Trinity College Dublin) has a number of works on paper in the exhibition. The space guaranteed for Academy members who wish to exhibit can be a contentious issue, especially when an artist works on a large scale. However, the chance to exhibit alongside prestigious artists is an important one and offers status to the newer artists whose work is on show.

Prints on display include At The Stroke of Midnight by Ann McKenna, an evocative and eerie Cinderella image that echoes Harry Clarke’s style. Her etchings often use fairy tale themes, and have an illustrative quality. Esther Breslin’s Snow Blanket Silence makes striking use of a panorama format. The colour changes across the image, moving from blues and whites to warmer pinks and a yellow glow emanating from a cabin. As with the other media on display, the prints show great variety. Jean Bardon, who has exhibited in previous RHA exhibitions,is represented by  The Garden of Perfect Splendour, Peonies which is typical of Bardon’s stylein the use of a gold leaf background, panels and floral motifs, also reflecting the influence of Japanese folding screens.

In terms of photography, there are works from Abigail O’Brien RHA’s With Bread exhibition from 2013. These images, taken at bakeries around Ireland, are named after different female artists whose work O’Brien has linked with the patterns in her photographs. Another striking work is Stephen Tierney’s The Weather in Delft in which the artist has taken Vermeer’s A Lady Writing A Letter With Her Maid, and removed the figures leaving an enigmatic and curiously empty image of a seventeenth century Dutch interior.

A combination of media can be seen in Kenneth Lambert’s art. His works behind domed glass have a nostalgic feel with the use of fighter plane motifs. They combine sculpture and painting, and the narrative element reflects his experience as an animator. Sculptures on display are in a variety of media — including Colm Lawton’s The Great Palindrome, which received The ESB Moran Award for Outstanding Sculpture, a clay-based work with astonishing attention to detail in its spiralling colonnades.

This year 14 awards were given, with a total prize fund of over €41,500. One such award is The Arthur Gibney Award for Architectural Content in any Medium. This was awarded to Terry Markey’s Constructed Action, a towering structure composed of planks of wood. Its rough textures and sharp angles provide visual interest, and it dominates the centre of the gallery in which it has been placed. The De Veres Art Award – for a work of distinction – was given to Ed Milano’s Prelude, a beautiful composition of 15 small panels with images of trees with yellow leaves in a silvery light. Alan Freney’s And Once I Was So Strong was awarded the prestigious Hennessy Craig Scholarship (prize fund €10,000), open to artists under the age of 35 who have studied in Ireland and are exhibiting in that year’s exhibition.

The works mentioned above are only a small number of those on display. The RHA Annual Exhibition offers an overview of contemporary Irish art, offering a diverse selection of media, subject matter and style. From the traditional to the experimental, it offers real variety and is an exhibition that is well worth several visits due to the sheer amount of works on show.

The 184th RHA Annual Exhibition runs until the 9th of August 2014 in the RHA Gallery, Ely Place, Dublin. Free Admission.

Review originally published on tn2 magazine’s website, see the original article for some images from the exhibition.

Interview with Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations)

16 year old artist Sarah Ryan from Wexford, Ireland has received much attention since broadcaster Ryan Tubridy publicised her artwork. Her celebrity sketches initially started as a hobby, and have been developed into her Transition Year Mini Company Sarah Rose Illustrations. Her work is currently on display in the Balla Bán Art Gallery in Dublin. I interviewed Sarah to find out more about her work, and her recent rise to success.

Sarah Ryan with her drawing of Ryan Tubridy.

Sarah Ryan with her drawing of Ryan Tubridy.

Jenny Duffy (JD): When did you start drawing?

Sarah Ryan (SR): I first started drawing in January last year 2013 purely as a hobby…when I started getting so much encouragement and praise, I then decided to use it as the concept of my Transition Year Enterprise.

Pink by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

Pink by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

JD: Where did you get the idea for the celebrity sketches, and who did you draw first?

SR: I always loved drawing fashion sketches. I had been drawing these for quite a while so I decided that it would be cool to try drawing someone I could recognize, therefore I started drawing celebrities. The first celebrity I drew was Rihanna.

JD:  You have used your art for your Transition Year Mini Company. Where did you get the idea of developing your art as a business, and how has it been going?

SR: My Mini Company/Enterprise has been going great! Since I am working alone, its been quite a challenge at times but it’s been a great experience. I received immense encouragement and support…from admirers of my artwork both locally and online, which made my choice for my Transition Year Enterprise a natural progression and suitable direction to follow. Since an idea like this hasn’t been done before in my school, I thought it gave my Enterprise a unique aspect. Due to the fact that my Enterprise is based on natural talent and I am only sixteen, I thought that it would attract more consumers. Therefore I saw it as an economical business idea for my enterprise as most of the ground work was already completed.

Jennifer Lawrence by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

Jennifer Lawrence by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

JD: Could you tell me about the process of making your drawings?

SR: Each drawing takes about 5-8 hours, depending on who I am drawing. The longest piece was One Direction as there are five members. When I first decide on drawing a particular celebrity, I must find a suitable photo to work from. It must be of high resolution as I zoom in on features such as their eyes and it must not pixalate at all to see all the details. I begin my work by drafting the outline of the photo I see on the computer screen. This stage takes me about 30 minutes to an hour sketching and making sure everything looks proportionally correct. I then start drawing the detail of each feature of the celebrity. I normally draw the clothes first and then continue on to the hair and face. My favourite feature to draw is their eyes. I use graphite lead pencils and high quality paper. I also use cotton swabs to smudge the pencil where necessary.

One Direction by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustration)

One Direction by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustration).

JD: Who influences your art/who is your favourite artist?

SR: I admire fellow Irish artist, Mike Gibson. I had previously seen his work on Instagram and Facebook and I was almost immediately a fan of his work. Since he is only 18 and is also self-taught and also draws celebrities, he has been a major influence. His website is:

JD: Which drawing are you proudest of, and who was hardest to draw?

SR: Since I spend so long and put so much effort into my drawings, I love them all! I particularly like the drawings I have done of celebrities I have an interest in. I am proud of my Demi Lovato, Cheryl Cole and Selena Gomez drawings as they would be some of my favourite celebrities. The hardest drawings were One Direction and The Beatles as there is more than one person to draw.

The Beatles by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

The Beatles by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

JD: What has it been like since Ryan Tubridy promoted your work?

SR: It’s been crazy to say the least! I went from running a small Transition Year Mini-Company selling to Wexford locals to being featured in numerous national newspapers, being interviewed for radio and blogs and being offered to exhibit my work in Frank O’Dea’s – Balla Bán Gallery at the Westbury Mall in Dublin in less than 24 hours! It’s been so overwhelming and rewarding to receive such recognition and I am so grateful to Ryan and the staff at RTÉ for being so supporting. To be honest, without the support and encouragement of my family, friends, school and Frank O’ Dea from the Balla Bán Art Gallery, I don’t know how I could have handled such an amazing yet hectic week. I am so grateful to everyone who has helped and advised me this week and to mention them all is impossible!

Ryan Tubridy by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

Ryan Tubridy by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

JD: Your work has been recognised by Ryan Tubridy, Pink and David Beckham – who would you most like to see your drawing?

SR: Celebrity recognition of any sort is always a gain and is so rewarding! I would love any of the celebrities that I have drawn to promote my work but if I could choose, I would love Cheryl Cole to see it.

Cheryl Cole by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

Cheryl Cole by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

JD: Who will you be drawing next?

SR: As of now, I am going to draw a second drawing of Ryan. After that I plan on drawing Miley Cyrus. My plans on future drawings change regularly but hopefully I can get started on expanding my collection when everything settles down.

JD: Will you be keeping art as a hobby, or would you consider it as a career?

SR:As it’s early days, I am still unsure whether I want to pursue this as a career but I obviously see it as an option. I will be going into 5th year in September so I would like to continue art as a hobby but due to my studies for the Leaving Cert, I will have to slow it down.

Batman by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

Batman by Sarah Ryan (Sarah Rose Illustrations).

JD: What is next for Sarah Rose Illustrations?

SR: This week, I will be giving a presentation to the judges to further my part in competition of The National Student Enterprise Awards. If I am chosen, Sarah Rose Illustrations is through to the Wexford Final. I wish to do as much as I can with the short time I have left in Transition Year but I know for sure that whatever I chose to do next, I will always hold and treasure this amazing experience with pride.