Art school with a difference at Kylemore Abbey
Denis Farrell created the Lodestar school at the stunning Connemara location out of frustration with the drift of art education
Student Franceska Alexander working at Lodestar School of Art. Photograph: Nora Duggan
Kylemore Abbey. Photograph: Don King/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Denis Farrell: ‘The Kylemore nuns were immediately receptive. We got on beautifully together’
The Lodestar School of Art is a summer school with a difference. This 10-day painting and drawing marathon, which kicked off on August 18th at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, is the brainchild of artist Denis Farrell, and could be described as an interruption and a temporary alternative to conventional academic art education.
He aimed to attract artists who wanted to develop their work – to shake it up and move it on – and who wanted some informed critical input and real conversation about making art and about the theoretical underpinning that informs its making.
The nature of the professional input reflects the dual emphasis on doing and thinking. There are established, practising artists, including Farrell himself, Alice Maher, Dermot Seymour, John Brady, Squeak Carnwath and Chuck Webster, but also writers including the critic Barry Schwabsky, poet and critic John Yau and art historian Aisling Molloy.
The idea is that no one is a passive or conventionally authoritative participant. Everyone works, whether that means painting, drawing, talking, writing or thinking, and everything is up for grabs. At the start of the 10 days, Farrell relished that he was not quite sure what was going to happen.
He has substantial experience of art education as both student and teacher. He studied first at Limerick School of Art, and then attended the New York Studio School on a Fulbright Scholarship before completing a master of fine arts degree at Yale University School of Art in 1993.
He has gone on to teach at Galway-Mayo and Sligo institutes of technology, and has exhibited in the US. He shows with Taylor Galleries in Dublin, and has had solo shows in public spaces including Limerick City Gallery and The Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Bingo in Brooklyn
Farrell wasn’t quite happy with the way the art world was structured, academically or commercially. In 1997 he opened Bingo Hall, an alternative contemporary art venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He felt the gallery system did not reflect the worth of the art that was being created. He and his wife, Connie, moved back to Ireland in 1999 (she teaches at NUI Galway’s Huston Film School). In time they settled in rural Co Leitrim. It was an unlikely location for an artist pursuing a cosmopolitan practice, and counter-intuitive in terms of pursuing a career, but Farrell has always measured his work against the best international exemplars and has never taken a limited, parochial view.