Friday 15 December 2017

Italian connection and an artful way forward

As recession brings out the creativity in people, a new gallery aims to give artists a platform for their work, says Lucinda O'Sullivan

THERE may not be as much money around these days, but despite that, or perhaps because of that, an extraordinary amount of new small business involving creative skills has emerged out of the recession.

Many people, having been perhaps made redundant, are turning their hand to what was really their first love, be it cooking, painting, sculpting, sewing and so on.

Affordable and accessible art is the theme of Joanne Bannon's new Via Firenze Gallery which opened this weekend in Bray, Co Wicklow. The new gallery is on the first floor of the family business Bannon Jewellers, on the corner of Main Street and Florence Road, hence the Italianate name, but that is not the only Italian connection.

Via Firenze is the brainchild of 29-year-old Joanne from Greystones, Co Wicklow. She was educated at the Holy Child Convent in Killiney and has had a love of art from childhood.

"There is now so much more creativity in Dublin, in Ireland, and that's when the idea of setting up Via Firenze came to me, to give artists and creative people a platform to display their work," explains Joanne, who had been working with the OPW at Aras an Uachtarain and Dublin Castle, before deciding to take a career break to set up the gallery.

Joanne graduated from Trinity in 2005 with a degree in archaeology and ancient history with Italian. She was then awarded a scholarship to spend a year in Pavia, just outside Milan, in Italy, where Leonardo da Vinci studied.

As it so happened, Joanne's architect brother, Michael, aged 30, was at the same time involved in Venice's famous Biennale Exhibition, which alternates each year between art and architecture. Michael is now assisting Joanne with design in setting up the new Bray gallery.

When she returned from Italy, Joanne worked in Kilkenny on Neolithic sites, including a Bronze Age cremation site. Once that project finished, she took up a post with the Office of Public Works as its Italian specialist. She also works on the educational programme for Italian visitors, and also for schools teaching Italian, working alongside the Italian Cultural Institute. Ireland is very popular with Italian tourists -- who see it as a mystical island to visit, Joanne says.

Michael, a Blackrock College boy, took an interesting route before becoming an architect. He went first to Trinity College to study science, where he specialised in plant genetics, spending a semester in the Guyanese rainforest.

"We spent most of our time about 20 feet up into the canopy of trees taking back samples and researching to see how they grew there and how they evolved."

However, on completing science he decided on a complete change and did architecture at DIT in Bolton Street, after which he spent a year working in Paris.

He came home as he "saw opportunities in the family jewellery business to bring a design element to the shops in Bray, and Frascati, Blackrock, which specialise in different and unique designs". They go to Italy twice a year to bring back jewellery from Italian designers, as well as stocking Irish-made jewellery.

Michael says, "There is extra energy and vibe around because younger people coming out of college in recent times, architects, artists, and so on, are finding it difficult to get work, so young people are looking for new ways to get themselves out there. All of my peers are having to think for themselves and come up with new ideas.

"Joanne knows a lot of these people, some who have fantastic achievements, so that is where the idea came from so that people can show off their talents, innovation, creativity, giving people an opportunity to display their art."

Affordable, accessible and undiscovered art is what it is all about, and now is the time to buy art at really good prices starting from €400. Via Firenze's first exhibition, 'Primavera', was launched on Thursday last by Dr Ciaran Crilly, artistic director of UCD Symphony Orchestra. Joanne's twin sister, Louise, who has been working at the world's No. 1 restaurant, Noma in Copenhagen, did the deliciously different nibbles.

The inaugural exhibition runs until March 15, featuring three Wicklow-based artists.

Californian-born silk screen artist Emmett McGlinchy moved to Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, when he was eight. He studied at the Limerick School of Art and Design and at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. He was also awarded Wicklow Artist of the Year by Wicklow County Council. Inspired by artists such as Andy Warhol and Barbara Kruger, his work embodies a distinctive mix of old and new, using digital manipulation of images but printing them using the older technique of silk screen.

Fionnuala O'Toole trained at NCAD and has also been involved in film production both at Sullivan Bluth Studios and at Ardmore Studios. She specialises in strong figurative images, and recently painted Jonathan Rhys Myers while he was making The Tudors at Ardmore.

Philip Murphy is a printmaker and sculptor who also lives in Enniskerry. His work involves more unusual printmaking techniques, using plates made from silicone or perspex. More traditional techniques are also exhibited.

Via Firenze gallery is above Bannon Jewellers at No 15, Main Street, Bray, Co Wicklow. Ph: 0861701332

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