Art in focus: Olwen Fouéré, Kilkenny (2016) by Mick O’Dea

O’Dea’s portrait of Fouéré is fast, sketchy and spontaneous, a record of the moment

What is it?

Olwen Fouéré

(2016) is a portrait of the actor, writer and director Olwen Fouéré by Mick O’Dea.

How was it done? The portrait was painted in the course of O’Dea’s annual arts residencies

over a three-year period (2015-2017) at the Kilkenny Arts Festival, during which he painted portraits of visiting artists, in a public studio, with an audience in attendance.

O'Dea is amenable to such a live setting as his work gains a great deal of its energy from his lively interaction with the subject, the decisive moment of putting brush to canvas in the sitter's presence. It's worth noting that the spirit of Lucian Freud hovers over this painting. True, most representational painters from life are inescapably aware of Freud. His resolute intensity and directness, his uncompromising mixture of awkwardness and virtuosity, his interest in the human animal, all serve to set the bar pretty high. But this painting also specifically recalls Freud's series of The Painter's Mother Resting works, made from 1976 into the 1980s.

Where Freud famously made sitters commit to regular routines of posing that could extend over long calendar months and more, O’Dea’s portrait of Fouéré is fast, sketchy and spontaneous, a record of the moment. Drawing has always been at the heart of his work, and so it is here, as his brush marks out lines driven by instinct and co-ordination.

Where can I see it?

Mick O’Dea Selects …

is currently on view at Glór Gallery (Glór, Causeway Link, Ennis, Co Clare, until January 19th, glor.ie). O’Dea has just finished his term as president of the RHA and here he rounds up the usual suspects, so to speak, to join him at Glór. That is, he has invited artists from the RHA’s senior council to exhibit their work with his own. They include Una Sealy, James Hanley, Blaise Smith, Colin Martin, Donald Teskey, Abigail O’Brien, Eithne Jordan, James English, Carey Clarke, Geraldine O’Neill and Éilis O’Connell – quite an array of talent. Plus, on Saturday December 15th, Emile Dinneen’s film

The Battlefield

, a candid documentary account of the making of O’Dea’s epic 1916 exhibition,

The Foggy Dew

, will be screened (2pm, admission €5, duration 45 minutes). Dinneen will be on hand to answer questions afterwards.

Is it a typical work by the artist? O’Dea has a well-earned reputation as one of Ireland’s leading portrait painters, so to that extent it is typical. As is a noticeable informality about the image, an informality that does not detract from the concentration of the process. Fouéré has consistently moved beyond conventional modes of theatrical performance, embracing the visual arts, dance, literature and film. Not that she rules anything out: you may have seen her appearance in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwa

ld.  For O'Dea, showing in Ennis is going home. He grew up there, and his aptitude, and passion, for art was apparent from an early age. His feeling for place, history and character remain central, and all that is rooted in Ennis.

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