Art in focus: Jobst Graeve by Michael O’Dea

A meeting between a painter and an art collector produced an unusual portrait

Jobst Graeve by Michael O’Dea

Jobst Graeve by Michael O’Dea

 

What is it?

Jobst Graeve is a portrait of the curator and art collector by Michael O’Dea.

How was it done?

According to Graeve’s account, about 2006 the artist approached him with an eye to his posing for a portrait. Graeve was receptive, but from the first he wanted to avoid a conventional, formulaic picture. He brought along some costumes and props to the sitting, without having a fixed plan. O’Dea is well-known for his intense though usually informal portraits. Eventually, Graeve, a non-conformist to his core, settled on wearing a long, belted, generously pleated skirt while standing bare to the waist in the studio. Rather than a formal dais or a chair, O’Dea situated him on a wooden palette.

Where can I see it?

Following on from the exhibition The Keeper: To Have and to Hold at The Model in Sligo, Graeve added a further 21 works, including O’Dea’s portrait, by 14 Irish artists, to the existing Graeve Collection already on long-term loan to Sligo’s Municipal Collection. Inevitably

all of the works will not be on view all of the time. Meanwhile, though, To Have and to Hold, which includes more than 100 works from the superlative Niland Collection on its 60th anniversary, centred on Jack B Yeats and the Yeats family and, itself significantly enhanced this year, will continue on view throughout the year and into 2020.

Is it a typical work by the artist?

It is fairly typical of O’Dea, who has a formidable track record not only in painting portraits but also in painting sequences or series of portraits under precise, challenging conditions, including his multi-year residency at Kilkenny Arts Festival and a residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.

But what is interesting here is Graeve’s proactive, creative input to the process, which is entirely typical of the man. Graeve, involved in the Irish art world from the 1970s as a curator and initiator – he began to collect work around 1976 – has a wide, generous view of creative life, encompassing not just conventional fine art but also the applied arts, dance, performance, design and making. Graeve’s eclectic collection was built on his close affinity to the artists and works rather than any commercial calculation. The Model cites his affiliation to Karl Ernst Osthaus’s Folkwang principle, based on an holistic view of creativity.

The Sligo municipal art collection was famously built through the assiduous work of librarian Nora Niland. Her achievement bears comparison with that of Graeve, who has built an exceptional, broad collection of contemporary art with passion and commitment, in the process showing that it can be done without spending a fortune. Add to that a philanthropic instinct. Worryingly, collectors and philanthropy are both increasingly lacking in the field of the contemporary Irish visual arts.

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