Saturday 21 July 2018

What Lies Beneath: Breech! by Ben Sullivan

Breech! by Ben Sullivan, Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist;

Breech! by Ben Sullivan
Breech! by Ben Sullivan

Niall MacMonagle

Dunboy Castle, once the stronghold of the O'Sullivans on the Beara Peninsula, and a Belfast-born maternal grandmother are part of Ben Sullivan's backstory.

The O disappeared along the way but Sullivan, the youngest  artist ever elected to both the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the New English Art Club, and winner of the £30,000 2017 BP Portrait Award, claims Irishness. Both parents are artists. Jason is a portrait painter and Una, a lettering artist.

She featured Paula Meehan's lines 'I dreamt a robe a colour/ so pure it became a word' in a work, so art and Ireland play their part.

And Ben Sullivan will be in Dublin this summer to give a four-day portraiture Masterclass at the RHA, June 25-28. Breech! seen by 300,000 people in London, was bought by a Cambridge college.

Chosen from among 2,580 entries from 87 countries, there's no doubting the powerful presence of his wife Virginia and their eight-month-old daughter Edith. It captures a now we are three moment.

Painted throughout December 2016, "it's a winter painting and the first time since the birth that life had quietened down and we cocooned ourselves in my tiny studio in Suffolk, enjoying our time together. We felt lucky - how many couples are able to spend such a chunk of time together with their new child?"

The image doesn't look posed. The hair isn't brushed, the dressing-gowned mother wears no make-up but mother and daughter's absorption in each other is total. No bright colours, it is without glamour and is totally beautiful. "Early motherhood is hard work, there is not much sleep, emotions are high but overall there is this maternal bond that knocks you back with its power."

The emotive title is dramatic and contrasts with the tranquillity of the scene. "The word stayed in my head. Ginnie had prepared for a hypnobirth in a midwife-led birthing suite but once breech was diagnosed that wasn't possible." In the painting the mother's hands hold the future.

Baby Edie's hand rests on the source of nourishment. Where it all begins. Ruth Wilcox in EM Forster's Howards End is "sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars". An idea not only for Mother's Day but for every day. How about it Mr Bashar al-Assad?

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