Painting the Nation review: hard to get worked up about this great Irish paint-off

Pauline McLynn presents this gladiatorial battle for the title of best Irish amateur artist

Una Sealy, Gabhann Dunne, Pauline McLynn, Agnieszka Ryan, Sinead McCarthy, David Monaghan, Alan Ryan, Louise Treacy, Kevin McCann and Sinead Lawless in Painting The Nation on RTÉ One.

Una Sealy, Gabhann Dunne, Pauline McLynn, Agnieszka Ryan, Sinead McCarthy, David Monaghan, Alan Ryan, Louise Treacy, Kevin McCann and Sinead Lawless in Painting The Nation on RTÉ One.

 

Welcome to the great Irish paint-off. Seven amateur artists, two judges, one prize. And Mrs Doyle from Father Ted overseeing it all. This could end up a dog’s dinner. Painting The Nation (Sunday, RTÉ One) is presented by Pauline McLynn, and features seven finalists, chosen from a “nationwide search”, all competing for the grand prize: the chance to have their painting on permanent display in the OPW’s State collection at Dublin Castle. “That’s the dream of everybody who paints,” says one of the finalists. And you thought they did it for the money, fame and fast cars.

To win the grand prize, the artists must complete a number of painting challenges, under the watchful eyes of professional artists Una Sealy and Gabhann Dunne. At the end of each episode, one artist will be declared “painter of the week” while another will be cruelly told to pack their paintbox and go home. The series will culminate in a paint-splattered final battle on the river Shannon.

But does Painting the Nation do what it says on the tin? Do the colours fly or is it like watching paint dry? I’m seeing a lot of wet paint here.

The contestants are a colourful lot: Louise Treacy, the oldest at 61, goes around in an RV named Thelma. Sinead Lawless suffers from ulcerative colitis and finds painting restorative. When 49-year-old Alan Ryan isn’t sitting at his easel, he competes in Iron Man triathlons around the world. It’s nothing to the challenge he and the others now face: they’re under starters’ orders to come up with masterpieces within an allotted time. They’re going to have to pull like a dog and paint like the wind to make the cut.

Black puddings

Their first task is to paint a still life that tells us something about themselves and where they come from. Alan creates a very creditable lobster, and Sinead McCarthy paints some very tasty-looking boiled sweets, but Sinead Lawless’s black puddings look more like tyres, and Kevin McCann’s visual gag of a dog leash (he’s from Laois) falls flat.

Their second task involves painting a big, shapeless piece of cloth – which is as exciting as it sounds. More promising is the final challenge, to draw Powerscourt waterfall, but as all seven line up before the mighty waterfall, each in their own little painter’s shelter, and prepare for the final artistic assault, the adrenalin is definitely not pumping, although the prospect of McLynn sidling up behind you to peek over your shoulder might add a smidgeon of tension.

But Painting the Nation does draw you in with its lovely, scenic views of Ireland’s beauty spots, and its glimpse into an idyllic world where people have endless time to sit around painting vases and waterfalls. If you’re interested in painting, you’ll get some insight into how artists work. In fact, it’s quite relaxing, like doing an hour of meditation, but it’s hard to get worked up about who’s going to win. As daddies say when their kids proffer their latest paintings: you’re all very good.

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