Artistic License: Shaping Ireland

Take time to reflect on the beauty of Irish landscape at this new exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland …

“A View of the Killaries, from Leenane” c.1888, Bartholomew Colles Watkins. © National Gallery of Ireland

The group show will present 72 works created over more than 250 years, from artists working in a range of creative media, spanning painting, sculpture, photography and video. Artists on display include Paul Henry, Jack B Yeats, George Barret, Dorothy Cross, Evie Hone, Willie Doherty, Niamh O’Malley and Sean Keating. Curator Donal Maguire tells us more about the exhibition.

“Shaping Ireland” has a huge time span and range. How did you decide on who and what would be represented?

The exhibition began with a desire to explore the history of Irish landscape art in relation to issues, themes and debates concerning environmental change and the human impact on the natural world. Landscape is a huge theme in Irish art and has influenced many different approaches to representation in visual art across hundreds of years. It was important for me to include artwork from all periods including today. I put two parameters in place for the selection of work: all of the works depict or relate to a real location on the island of Ireland; and all of the artworks represent or evoke a degree of human intervention in the landscape.

“Glassilaun Snow Peak” 2014, Dorothy Cross. © Dorothy Cross & Kerlin Gallery

Artists on display include Dorothy Cross, Evie Hone, Willie Doherty, Niamh O’Malley and Nan Goldin – were works by these artists already in the NGI collection or are they on loan?

The National Gallery of Ireland holds the world’s preeminent collection of Irish art and includes some of the most celebrated and important landscapes by artist such as Barret, Henry, Yeats and Hone. The collection is at the heart of the exhibition and is represented in the display by a selection of well- and lesser-known artworks. These provided thematic and conceptual avenues from which to explore the wider world of Irish landscape art which takes the exhibition in many different and exciting directions. This creates unexpected and fascinating connections between artworks separated in time and space. Many of both the historic and contemporary works have been borrowed from public and private collections. However, there are a number of new National Gallery of Ireland acquisitions by contemporary artists that may surprise some people and reflects the Gallery’s move towards representing modern and contemporary art in its collection.

“A View of Ballyshannon, County Donegal” c.1770, Thomas Roberts. © National Gallery of Ireland

What does the exhibition say or conclude about people and the natural world?

The exhibition invites the public to explore many of the different ways in which artists have explored the human relationship with the landscape over the past 250 years. I hope it will reveal not only how we have contributed to the shaping of our environment but also the fragility and ephemerality of our relationship with the natural world over time. Most significantly it will show the role artists have played in shaping perceptions of the land and our place within it.

“Border Road” 1994, Willie Doherty. AIB Art Collection © Willie Doherty & Kerlin Gallery

Do you have any favourite artworks?

I have many favourites, it’s too difficult to select one. But what I am most excited by are the relationships that have been created between the artworks by presenting them together. Every time I enter the gallery I make a new and unexpected connection between these disparate artworks.

“View of the Coast, County Clare” Nathaniel Hone the Younger. © National Gallery of Ireland

I believe the catalogue has reflections by Mary Reynolds and others about the subject matter

As many of the artworks were not created in the context of today’s discussions around environmental change we invited specialists and experts working in a variety of fields to provide personal reflections on contemporary issues relating to the use and representation of land. These texts not only provide a contemporary context to the artworks but are fascinating in themselves, and beautifully complement the artworks pictured in the catalogue.

Need to Know: “Shaping Ireland: Landscapes in Irish Art” opens on Saturday April 13 until Sunday July 7; www.nationalgallery.ie

Penny McCormick

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