Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Wednesday 16 October 2019

What Lies Beneath: Dylan Is Ainm Dom by Stephen Doyle

Dylan Is Ainm Dom by Stephen Doyle, Oil on board and neon light, Courtesy of the artist

Dylan Is Ainm Dom by Stephen Doyle
Dylan Is Ainm Dom by Stephen Doyle

Niall MacMonagle

Last year, at the Rainbow Ball fundraiser for BeLonG To, artist Stephen Doyle heard Kirsty speak about her 17-year-old son Dylan and transgender identity.

"Her speech really got to me," says Doyle, and Dylan ("a very inspiring young man") prompted Doyle to wonder how many of us are that sure of ourselves and that confident at 17? The artist concluded: "He's the kid I wanted to be at that age."

Stephen Doyle himself is only 24 and although he always drew, he began painting only three years ago. Doyle hopes that his striking portrait of Dylan, shortlisted for the Zurich Portrait Prize, makes Dylan feel valued, because that was "my only real intent for the piece".

A title is very important - "it has to sum up the entire work" - and Dylan Is Ainm Dom is "a self-declaration. This is who I am, plain and simple. To have it as Gaeilge echoes the connection to his Irish roots. Not just that, "the woods are symbolic of his Irish heritage"; and the neon element that "mimics the curves of the natural environment" gives the piece "a juxtaposing energy, the traditional and the new, wider society and queer culture."

Doyle is very pleased that this is the first artwork in the National Gallery "that openly discusses transgender identity" and hopes that "any transgender individual who sees the work will be able to connect with it and know that they belong".

Born and raised on College Road in Cork, Doyle was "always interested in making things", and at the Crawford Art College, for the first time in his life he felt totally free to be himself.

"Continuous assessment and independent learning suited me perfectly. I had spent a long time not being my true self. Now I'm secure and the work flows".

His work documents "the social aspects of LGBTQ+. Queer culture is what I know". For his degree thesis, The Relevancy of Queer Visual Culture in Western Society and Modern Russia, Doyle spent time in Moscow and explored the work of Patrick Hennessy and Konstantin Altunin.

Through portraiture, Doyle captures a person. "I tell their story, discuss sexual orientation and sexual identity and the body is a perfect vessel to explore those subject matters".

He hasn't used neon before. It's modern and bright. Like Doyle's own future.

Instagram/Twitter/Facebook @stephendoyleart Stephen Doyle's solo show is at So Fine Art Editions Gallery next February. He also has a solo show in London, a group show in China, as recipient of the Sunny Art Prize, and 'Dylan Is Ainm Dom' can be viewed at The Zurich Portrait Prize at the National Gallery until January 13.

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