Art : What Lies Beneath
Catherine Creaney Care
Crayola and paints were always on Catherine Creaney’s Christmas and birthday lists and she enjoyed watching art programmes with her mother, who encouraged her and “taught me how to use watercolours and about symbolism in art”.
Aged 13 she decided she wanted to be an artist and she says “I was pretty single-minded about that aim ever since”.
At school, her passion for drawing portraits was “ignited in history rather than art class”. For a team project on Irish history Creaney became the illustrator and drew famous Irish leaders.
She was also praised for a war scene based on an old photo, but Creaney left school early “with barely any qualifications” due to “severe anxiety, social phobias and depression”.
She applied to Belfast School of Art, was turned down twice “due to my poor grades and I’m assuming due to the poor quality of my portfolio. I was in my experimental abstract phase though I had a few portraits thrown into the mix.”
Disheartened but undeterred, Creaney decided “the best route was to continue with art, regardless, on my own”.
She looked closely at the work of artists she admired, read art books and magazines.
“YouTube, when it came along, was a great source of information and I absorbed as much as I could. There was lots of experimentation and mistakes.”
She now cringes at her early work, but says: “I taught myself to paint, sent work to galleries, exhibitions, competitions, had a lot of rejection letters or no replies.”
In her late 30s “things tuned around and I started to get recognition”.
Creaney still lives near Dungannon, Co Tyrone, where she was born. “I originally stayed due to my mother’s poor health. We were very close, she was diagnosed with MS when I was 15 and I liked to be close at hand to help out with her care.”
‘Care’, this extraordinary oil on linen, is from a series of portraits of carers and was inspired by “the selfless love of my mother’s carer and partner Vinny, who looked after her for over 20 years until her death at 60”.
This particular one, shortlisted for the Zurich Portrait Prize, is of 30-year-old Jordan Dennis, who Creaney found through an open call on social media. Jordan’s father, an artist, suggested his son, who worked in a nursing home through the pandemic and who also got Covid himself.
“Light and shade can make an image a lot more dynamic and can affect the whole atmosphere of a portrait,” Creaney explains.
“Expression is also integral to my work. I wanted to capture the raw feeling of what Jordan Dennis had been through.
“Light and shade are essential and the best way to capture this accurately was to squint, while painting, so as to slightly blur the image.”
In Dennis’s expression there is quiet sorrow and anguish.
“I prefer an expression that has subtlety and multiple interpretations and I think things in portraits that are too obvious close the doors to the viewers’ imagination.
“Good art is a two-way communication between artist and viewer, both adding to the overall story.”
Carers have kind hearts. On a chain around this young man’s neck hangs a plectrum, a symbol of his love of music.
It brings the viewer beyond Covid to another and happier time.
And the fact it’s heart-shaped adds something even more special to a stunning painting.
Zurich Portrait Prize, National Gallery until April 2
This multimedia sculpture exhibition includes work in wood, steel, graphite, paint, plaster, wire and string. One exquisite work, ‘Fisherman 8.33AM and Fisherman a half-second later’ features two figures that evoke twee garden statues or mantelpiece figurines from another era.
Kerlin Gallery, until February 25
Twelve Irish artists were invited by Ceadogán Rugs to collaborate on a unique rug, with 50pc of profits going to the Peter McVerry Trust. The rest will go to the artists and the For the Birds project at Bannow Bay. Artists include Lola Donoghue, Dorothy Cross, Maser and Sean Scully.
Hang Tough Contemporary, until February 5