Wednesday 13 December 2017

What lies beneath: Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa by Ailbhe Barrett, acrylic on canvas courtesy of the artist and Mayfield Arts Centre

Mona Lisa by Ailbhe Barrett.
Mona Lisa by Ailbhe Barrett.

Niall MacMonagle

Lisa Gherardini married Francesco del Giocondo in her teens, had five children and when her husband died she became a nun. She herself died in her early sixties, hardly knowing that she'd end up as one of the most famous faces ever. Her portrait, painted around 1503, by Leonardo da Vinci, launched a thousand and more comments.

You'll now find her mug on mugs, T-shirts, bags, underwear and the question, what kind of a look has she on her, is still being asked? Experts devised the term sfumato to explain that enigmatic smile: tones and colours shade gradually into one another and play tricks on the viewer. Her eyes follow you around the room but did her lips just move? Is she smiling? Does she look as if she knows something that we don't? We'll never know.

But almost everyone, including Cork-based artist Ailbhe Barrett, who stands before the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, where she's been hanging since 1797, is struck by how small the painting is. Da Vinci's masterpiece, behind bulletproof glass, measures 30 inches by 21 and there's nothing much you can do about that. Unless you're Barrett who decided to give Mona Lisa a make-over.

In this version she's gone blonde, she's wearing brighter colours, she's sporting a bling-bling brooch and that smile would suggest that this Mona Lisa is having a much better time. "When I came back from Paris, I did a big painting of her and I made one of her eyes crooked," says Barrett. That'll put a stop to her following you everywhere.

Ailbhe Barrett, an Outsider Artist, has certainly jollied her up. Outsider Art is created by artists on the margins of society and has been championed by Brent Pope and Dorothy Cross. Pope prefers the term "art uncooked by culture" and is drawn to such work for its simplicity, its creativity, its therapeutic effect. Barrett, a member of Cuig (Creativity Unlimited an Integrated Group) is employed as an artist-in-residence at Mayfield Arts Centre, Cork, and has shown at the Southbank Centre, London, Gallerie Outsider Art, Amsterdam and at the Crawford Gallery. An outsider artist on the inside track.

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