Sunday 21 January 2018

A true master of her craft, Angela sticks her neck out

What is the current shape of craft, art and design in Ireland? This is a question that is being considered by an exhibition entitled Future Beauty? Running at The National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny, it is drawn from Irish Craft Portfolio: Critical Selection, recently launched by the Crafts Council of Ireland.

It features 26 craft makers across the disciplines of ceramics, jewellery, glass, metals, paper, textiles and calligraphy as well as furniture, woodwork and basketry.

The exhibitors are linked by a connection to Ireland, through birth, training or place of residence.

This gallery is without a doubt the main champion of the craft industry in Ireland, exhibiting both Irish and international designers and artists. The manager and curator of the gallery is Ann Mulrooney.

"The remit is to raise awareness and to embed the idea that craft is an important part of our material culture. It plays a part historically, culturally and also economically," she says.

Ann feels that this exhibition sees curator Amanda Game making a coherent statement about where we are now. "It's a very beautiful exhibition and you do get a sense of trends and threads running through it."

Ann also believes that it is interesting in terms of the make-up of the exhibitors, the mix between Irish based abroad and artists from abroad who are based in Ireland.

"If you have trained and worked abroad and come back, that's a huge part of the story, that willingness to travel and that sharing of influences, that's the necessity of making a living as a creative person living on a small island off Western Europe," she says.

The level of skill in this exhibition is striking. One of the artists really making her mark is Dublin-based Angela O'Kelly. She combines paper with mixed media using a variety of traditional and non-traditional textile and jewellery techniques.

Having studied jewellery and silversmithing at the Edinburgh College of Art, Angela returned home and set up a studio in her mother's garage. She was also teaching part-time which allowed her the freedom to be experimental with the work.

"I never wanted to go down the production route, I was aiming for the collectors' market where they are more interested if you are making one-off pieces," she tells me.

O'Kelly's pieces in this exhibition are intriguing – three large neck pieces that are almost like supersize necklaces. The size is absolutely intentional.

"If somebody buys them, I want them to have them on their walls, almost like a piece of art," she says.

Angela also makes a range of much more wearable smaller neck pieces, and more modest-scale bangles and brooches.

This exhibition gives us an opportunity to interrogate the state of contemporary craft in Ireland. Irish designers both here and abroad continue to be inspired by their Irish roots and heritage, but are very much embracing innovative and unique techniques.

Irish craft? The future, it would appear, looks bold and beautiful.

Future Beauty? is at The National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny, until March 13. See www.nationalcraftgallery.ie and www.angelaokelly.com

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Irish Independent

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