Tuesday 17 October 2017

Ballagh portrait strikes chord with Eleanor's heart

Singer Eleanor
McEvoy poses
with a Fender
Telecaster guitar
beside the
portrait of her
painted by Robert
which now hangs
in the National
Concert Hall.
Singer Eleanor McEvoy poses with a Fender Telecaster guitar beside the portrait of her painted by Robert Ballagh, which now hangs in the National Concert Hall. JASON CLARKE PHOTOGRAPHY
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

INTERNATIONALLY accl-aimed singer Eleanor McEvoy broke down in tears when she saw the stunning portrait of herself hanging in the National Concert Hall for the first time yesterday.

The Co Wexford-based singer, who turns 45 tomorrow, said she was overcome with emotion seeing the work of art by her friend, the esteemed Irish painter Robert Ballagh, officially unveiled last night.

Ms McEvoy, whose 1993 debut album 'A Woman's Heart' went on to become the best-selling Irish album of all time, said she was "absolutely overwhelmed" with the portrait Mr Ballagh painted.

"I started crying. I was completely moved, I was really teary, I was blown away," she said.

She sat for the portrait over a year ago when she started writing the lyrics to her latest single 'Harbour' which will be released next month.

She had no idea that he would incorporate the sheet music into the portrait.

"I had the manuscript to 'Harbour' with me and I left it with him, thinking he might roll it up and put it in a corner but in fact, it's the backdrop to the painting," she said.

"It's just astonishing what he did. I'm completely blown away by it, I'm speechless to be honest," she said.

Ms McEvoy said she was also deeply honoured to have her portrait hang in the same hall where she began her musical career as a young violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra for four years.

"This building has meant so much to me growing up, never dreaming that one day I'd be sitting in the orchestra playing."

"If I had known then that some day my portrait would have been over there I just wouldn't have believed it," she said.

Mr Ballagh, meanwhile, revealed that he unwittingly helped launch the career of legendary Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott after selling the late singer his guitar when he turned his back on music in the 1960s.

The 68-year-old Dublin artist went on to become one of the most respected modern painters in Ireland.

His portraits of famous Irish literary and political figures -- including Oscar Wilde and Gerry Adams -- hang in the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Gallery and Trinity College.

But before he set his sights on an artistic career -- which also included designing more than 70 commemorative stamps for An Post and the last series of Irish banknotes depicting James Joyce and Daniel O'Connell -- he was a working musician and member of the showband The Chessman.

But he gave it all up and sold his Fender bass guitar to pursue an artistic career.

"In 1966 when I decided to make a break with the music I sold my instrument and there was a young singer then who had just taken up an instrument . . . so I sold him my bass guitar,"he told the Irish Independent. "That fellow was Phil Lynott," he said.

"If you stroll down Grafton Street and look up Harry Street, Phil is standing there proudly holding my guitar," he said of the bronze statue of the legendary singer.

"If I couldn't play a guitar at least I can paint one," he said about the Fender guitar that Ms McEvoy holds in the portrait.

Irish Independent

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