This loyalty has influenced his decision to stage his first art exhibition in Ireland rather than in London or New York – the international art market’s twin capitals, where galleries have already begun making overtures about showing his work.
His first exhibition, Michael Flatley: The Art of the Dance is being organised by Sheppard’s fine art auctioneers of Durrow, Co Laois – “as a gesture of support for small-town Ireland” – a choice likely to raise eyebrows and wilt lorgnettes in the rarefied upper echelons of the art establishment. But loyalty has also influenced his decision. It was Sheppard’s which sold his first painting – over a year ago – at a charity auction in aid of Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral.
Flatley donated a painting, initially thought to have been a one-off novelty rather than a harbinger of an artistic career. It was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder in Dublin for €5,600, a very strong auction price for a first painting. Before he brought the hammer down, auctioneer Michael Sheppard addressed the saleroom: “Don’t blame me in a few years’ time when we see these going for millions.”
Flatley is not going down the auction route for his solo debut and has opted instead for a selling exhibition where paintings, selected from a substantial body of completed work, will be hung, priced and offered for sale. The event will be held in Dublin, probably in late May, at a venue to be announced soon.
He may be the most successful popular dancer since Fred Astaire but, in the art world, Flatley will be regarded as a novice. Like all artists, he faces the nerve-wracking ordeal of presenting his work to public scrutiny – followed by that agonising wait to see if those all-important, little red-dot stickers start to appear. While his fame guarantees a certain pulling power, to art critics, collectors and galleries, he is an unknown painter.
However, if Flatley’s paintings attract even a fraction of the interest generated by his dancing, the art world could have a new star in the making.