ENNIS artist Mick O’Dea has completed an official portrait of President Michael D Higgins, which will hang in Leinster House throughout his time in office, before being moved to Áras an Uachtaráin after his departure from office.
“The annual Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) exhibition will be opening on May 22 and I’m going to show the newly completed official portrait of President Higgins,” said Mick.
While he has recently exhibited in the Royal Scottish Academy and will have another painting in London’s Royal Academy over the summer, he said this is the most important one for him.
“For a portrait painter, it is a big honour. I’m humbled to have been asked to do it.”
In relation to where the official portrait will be on show, he explained. “It will hang in the Áras, along with the previous Presidential portraits, once he leaves office. I’ll be showing it in the RHA, which I’m currently president of, and when that exhibition is over, it will hang in Leinster House. When a new President is elected, the portrait moves from Leinster House to the Áras.”
Mick was a regular visitor to his fellow Clareman in the Phoenix Park while work was ongoing. “We spent a long time on it; I was going over and back to the Áras quite a bit.”
A painting of Mick’s, inspired by the Civil War, was on show until last Sunday at the Royal Scottish Academy’s Annual Exhibition in Edinburgh.
About the piece of work there, he said, “It’s of a Republican being arrested by a Free State soldier. It’s set on a table top of all things, so there’s a surreal element to it.”
It was inspired by a photograph from the time and he is very interested in the revolutionary period.
“I use the idea of the table top as a stage or a setting, wherein things are acted out. In the case of the one that is reproduced there, it is a moment in time, based on a photograph of a Republican being arrested by a Free State soldier in Dublin, during the Civil War. The reason why I did that was because my uncle Paddy O’Dea, who would have been my father’s older brother, he was arrested in Ennis in 1922 by the Free State Army and imprisoned in Limerick and the Curragh. He was released around October or November of 1923. For me, that’s a personal reference.”
Another uncle of his was also involved in the Mid Clare Division of the IRA, where he says their commander was the father of future Minister Sylvester Barrett.
At the moment, he also has a portrait of poet Francis Ledwidge on show at the Solstice Arts Centre in Navan. He was commissioned for it as this year marks the centenary of the death of the Meath war poet, who died in World War I.
Another painting of his will be exhibited in London during the summer, which he said mixes his interest in Ireland’s revolutionary period and what is happening in Britain nowadays.
“It’s going to be hanging in the Royal Academy in London for their summer exhibition, commencing in June. Again, that painting is from the Irish Civil War. It’s of Free State troops firing from behind a barrier.
“For me, there is a connection between the barrier that the Free State Troops are shooting behind and the kind of barriers that are coming up in Europe at the moment and the fact that Britain is going through Brexit. I decided it would be an appropriate thing to hang there for the summer show.”
He added, “I’m interested in politics and I’m interested in history. If I’m going to put a painting into somewhere like the Royal Academy in London, I usually would be strategic about what I decide to put in. Even though it is about something that occurred nearly 100 years ago in Ireland, I think that the image has very strong symbolism for what is happening now.”
In July, he will be part of an exhibition of Irish landscape painting on the island of Paxos, as part of an Irish festival there, which will also involve artists such as Barbara Allen and Jim Allen, as well as musicians Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny.
By Owen Ryan