Peek inside artist Monika Crowley's red-brick Victorian home in Dublin
Monika Crowley's mum didn't want her to choose a career involving horses or art. She chose art. Her mother has since come around to the idea, and even inspired an exhibition. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
Monika Crowley's house is full of stunning artworks; they're not works by her, but they could well be. Monika, who is a senior art director in advertising agency Target McConnells, is also an artist with the Black Church Print Studio and has several solo shows to her credit, but she's just not very good at hanging her own work in her home. Her collection includes artworks she bought from her sister Teresa's gallery - The Molesworth Gallery in Dublin - or the work of students recommended by Teresa.
Instead of artworks, Monika's house could so easily have been full of racing trophies and photographs of horses; growing up she had two passions, art and horses, and it could have gone either way. Indeed, four of her five sisters have ended up working with horses.
Monika grew up in a tiny village called Tullahought, which recently hit the headlines when it was revealed as the ancestral home-place of George Clooney. Before the Clooney link, Monica's father, Joseph Crowley, brought fame to the little townland. He was a well-known national hunt trainer there and, growing up, all six girls were involved in the horses. "It was a very carefree childhood. We all had ponies and were out with them all day; we just showed up at mealtimes," Monika says. "I loved horses, and I was an apprentice jockey when I was around 17, but I was terrible," she adds with a laugh. "I wasn't as brave as my sisters. I had a couple of bad falls, nothing serious - just broken legs, and a head injury. Fortunately nothing lasting, except a scar and a fright. One or other of us was constantly being dragged in covered in blood."
When she wasn't mucking out the horses, she was drawing them, so when it came to opting for a college course she chose the National College of Art and Design, much to her mother's chagrin.
"She was very creative herself, but she always said, 'I don't care what you want to do as long as it's not horses or art'. She didn't think you could make much of a career out of either," Monika explains with a laugh. The irony is that the six children have done well in those two very areas.
However, Monika didn't completely dismiss her mother's concerns - she opted to study industrial design. "It was quite engineering-based. I think it was to reassure my mother that I could get a career from it," Monika explains, adding that as she explored the course, she realised that the part she enjoyed most was pulling together the visuals, and standing up and presenting her work. So she transferred to visual communication, which was all about coming up with concepts, generating ideas and presenting them. She graduated in 1998, and it must have been some consolation to her mother that she graduated with first-class honours and had three job offers as a result of her degree show. She worked in design in a few different agencies and has been with Target McConnells for the last eight years. Monika has worked on many high-profile campaigns, but she's particularly proud of An Post's new Christmas ad, which made its first appearance last year.
"Their old ad was The Snowman, and our ad last Christmas was the first time An Post changed their ad in about 20 years. It was the start of Christmas for many when that ad came on TV, so it was a big deal to change it. Myself and the copywriter, Sinead Kennedy, came up with the concept, and I was going on maternity leave as we were planning and shooting the ad, so there were lots of meetings around this kitchen table with a newborn baby. I didn't have to, but I wanted to, as we were working on it for it a while; it was my other baby," she says with a laugh.
The baby's name is Karl; Monika and her husband, Frank Long, also have three-year-old Lauren; both children are adorable blondes. The couple met when Monika did a summer internship in her college days at LG Electronics, where Frank worked as a product designer at the time. A year later, they got together romantically and got married in 2008. "Frank's from Tipperary; we have great fun every September when Kilkenny and Tipperary meet in the hurling final, which happens quite a lot," Monika says.
Frank is now a director of Frontend.com, a company which is involved with interaction design. "In its simplest terms. It's about accessibility and usability and online. Frontend recently won an international interaction design award for MyMilkman.ie - bringing the Irish milkman up to date. It was a whole series of website apps and programs that worked together for milkmen - and they won the Grand Prix award at IxDA in San Francisco. One of the judges remarked, 'We don't have milkmen in our country, but after seeing this project, I really want one'. Milkmen are becoming a lot bigger because of the project," she notes.
Monika's artwork has recently centred around motherhood, work and identity - natural preoccupations, considering this engaging artist has had quite a juggling act over the last few years, managing a full-time job - Target McConnells has just won the L'oreal account - her art, two babies, and then, in 2012, a house move when they bought their house in Dublin 6. A red-brick Victorian terraced house, comprising two reception rooms, a kitchen, and four bedrooms, it needed some work.
"Work had been done on the house in 2006 and everything was basically fine, but it was cold, so we replaced the old sash windows with new ones," Monika notes, adding that they also replaced the flooring with reclaimed parquet on the ground floor.
Last year, they embarked on a big job, re-organising the layout of the kitchen and making it a large light-filled space. They also renovated the bathroom. They've furnished the house with interesting pieces, including the Arne Jacobsen Egg chair and unusual accessories, but there are some things they haven't got around to.
"We can't agree on chairs for the dining room - we have strong opinions on design," Monika says with a laugh.
Nor have they got around to hanging much of Monika's own art, though a few lovely pieces have made it on to the walls, including a piece that depicts an ice cream wrapper. "I did my second exhibition about ice cream," Monika says. "My father was obsessed with it. No journey could be undertaken without stopping for ice cream, and all six of us and the parents would all be sitting in the car, licking a 99."
It's only fair that Monika's mother also inspired an exhibition. "My first solo show was around my mother's brown bread recipe. It was a huge part of our childhood and she still bakes it. When I was expecting Lauren, I said, 'Give me the recipe', and she sent me a letter with it in it. I felt like it was a real transition moment. I will pass it on to my daughter, and I reproduced the letter in the exhibition." Was her mother thrilled? "Equal parts mortified and thrilled," Monika says.
That's Irish mammies for you.
Monika's art can be viewed at print.ie
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