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Saturday 25 February 2017

Sunnier side of Joyce ready for unveiling

Ken Sweeney Entertainment Editor

ROBERT Ballagh, who captured James Joyce more than two decades ago on a £10 note, yesterday said he had relished "portraying the artist" in a new work due to be unveiled to mark Bloomsday next week.

The 65-year-old artist spent six months creating the near life-sized work, which will hang in the O'Reilly Hall at UCD in Dublin, where Joyce studied English, French and Italian from 1898 to 1903.

And as you might expect from one of the country's leading visual artists -- who has designed everything from postage stamps to stage sets for 'Riverdance' -- everything is in the detail.

"Despite how much he is celebrated, James Joyce was photographed very little during his lifetime," Ballagh told the Irish Independent.

Shape

"This means that every piece of art done of Joyce is immediately recognisable as being based on that small number of photographs. I was keen this wouldn't be the case with my portrait."

Instead, the painter asked his friend Gerard Keenan of the Irish Chamber Orchestra -- who is roughly of the same height and stature as Joyce -- to pose as the famous writer for him at his studio.

"That really helped me create the body shape, but then I was left with finishing the face, again working off a small collection of pictures taken of Joyce while he was alive," Ballagh said.

"But as luck would have it, I opened up a newspaper one day and came across a picture of Joyce I'd never seen before, taken by a French photographer."

The portrait is set on the sands of Joyce's beloved Sandymount Strand in Dublin.

Ballagh's previous portrait, which was done in 1991, featured on the last Irish £10 note. "I was working for the Central Bank, who were quite insistent that Joyce be smiling in that picture," Ballagh said. "To find pictures of James Joyce smiling is pretty tricky and the other thing they were quite insistent about was that you could see his eyes -- but James Joyce had terrible eyesight and wore thick bottle glasses. So we invented this smiling James Joyce with eyes and mouth."

The painting's unveiling is at 4.30pm in UCD's O'Reilly Hall next Thursday -- which is Bloomsday -- and will be followed by a public discussion with Ballagh and Professor Declan Kiberd of UCD.

It is free to those who register at communications@ucd.ie.

Irish Independent

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