TateShots: Albert Irvin at Tate Stores.

:: Albert Irvin :: 


Here Albert, now in his late eighties, talked to TateShots about three of his paintings; 'Flodden', 'St Germain' and 'Empress', pieces that he hadn't seen since they were last on show at the Tate. Albert explained to us how and why he made the trio, as well as offering up his thoughts on his career as an artist.


UCD puts artist Robert Ballagh RHA in picture with degree

 Artist Robert Ballagh RHA has received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature to celebrate his lifetime's achievements in the arts. The prolific artist whose paintings are held in collections including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Ulster Museum, the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, and the Albrecht Dürer House, Nuremberg, was honoured by University College Dublin last night.

The artist has also designed more than 70 stamps for An Post and the last set of banknotes prior to the introduction of the euro. His iconic portrait of James Joyce standing on Sandymount Beach with Howth in the background hung in the foyer of O'Reilly Hall where he was receiving his degree. "It's a great honour and it's a bit of a joy for me," he said. "I've been involved, obviously all my professional career in the visual arts, but this is an honorary doctorate in literature and I've always been passionate about literature and particularly Irish literature, so to get an award like this is a great thrill." 

The artist was friends with poet Seamus Heaney having worked with him on a project for St Joesph's School for the Visually Impaired in Drumcondra, Dublin two years ago. "He was a hugely generous man, friendly and humorous," he said. "Apart from the poetry he'll be hugely missed by all who knew him. "Eamonn Ceannt, director of capital development at the university, praised the artist's eye for detail evident in his work. "The attention to detail and intimate knowledge of his sitters are a hallmark of Robert's portrait work," he said. "His work is at once perfect in its detail and expressive in its storytelling."

John Bellany CBE. RA.

John Bellany CBE. RA. Tranquility, Oil on canvas, 173x122cm. 

The paintings of the Scottish artist John Bellany, who has died aged 71 after a long illness, confronted issues of mortality, evil and the individual's capacity for survival. His career was dominated by the circumstances of his own turbulent life: the act of painting, in which he employed a personal language at once realist, expressionist and surrealist, enabled him to overcome alcoholism and survive several near-death episodes. He was prone to severe depression, had a liver transplant, and in 1985 suffered the death of his second wife, Juliet Gray. The following year he remarried his first wife, Helen Percy.

The drawings and etchings that Bellany did in the 1980s faced up to the seeming inevitability of his death from alcoholism: he produced the grimly candid Self-Portrait, Addenbrooke's Hospital (1988) just hours after coming round from his transplant operation. His capacity for triumphant perseverance for a further quarter century was celebrated in the retrospective John Bellany: A Passion for Life at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2012-13).

This confrontational and complex approach was largely at odds with the abstraction dominant in the 1960s, when he was a student. In 1967 he visited the site of Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, in Germany, which made a searing impression on him. While Scottish artists of his own and previous generations were often inspired by the French tradition, Bellany looked closer to home, encouraged by the poet Hugh MacDiarmid. He took inspiration from literature and from the culture of his own community, in the form of a potent mix of Celtic mythology and the Calvinistic guilt that sprang from the religious fundamentalism of John Knox.

This fear of the almighty ran in tandem with a deep respect for the power of the sea. Born and brought up in Port Seton, east along the coast from Edinburgh, John was the son of Agnes and Richard Bellany, both from families of fishermen and boatbuilders. He first went out to sea on a fishing boat at the age of eight and his holiday job as a teenager consisted of gutting fish. His early awareness of the precariousness of survival at sea was reflected in boyhood paintings of boats, strange creatures such as huge skates and dismembered fish.

From Preston Lodge high school he went to Edinburgh College of Art (1960-65) and the Royal College of Art, London (1965-68). He portrayed members of his family in a naturalistic vein, as in the drawing My Grandmother (1967), and continued to employ maritime imagery, as inStar of Bethlehem (1966), with a dour, apparently loveless couple standing up to their knees in dead fish in the boat of that name. Bellany's awareness of the Calvinistic worldview of hellfire and brimstone, of deep anxiety towards activities of the flesh and of fear of the consequences of sin linked him to the Renaissance world of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. Twentieth-century influences included Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka and the Australian painter Arthur Boyd.

Bellany created expressionist allegories indicating the struggle to adhere to the uncompromising values that define individual morality. He made it clear in discussion that the grey-haired figure with his head in his hands in Haunted Soul (1990) expressed the tension between the shame associated with man's physical existence and the essential good of spiritual life. Grotesque images of beasts killing or being killed are charged with fear, though the bestiality implied in slaughtering other creatures for one's own survival was utterly alien to Bellany's own nature, which sought to attain "a oneness of being".

Sexual guilt and the "devil in the bottle" contributed to his tormented images. His watercolour Self-Portrait (1987) incorporates a mask, a cat and a self-portrait by Van Gogh behind him. The signature, Giovanni Bellini, links an Italianised form of his name to a prosecco and peach cocktail, and is followed by the words Confessions of a Justified Sinner. As Edward Lucie-Smith has pointed out, the self-portrait gives the artist particular scope for linking his work to the great practitioners of the past.

In common with the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (1952), which inspired a number of paintings and prints, Bellany's life and work were characterised by brutality, compassion and a deeply felt generosity towards others. His identification with their suffering ultimately revealed itself in stoicism.

With Boyd, Bellany shared a predilection for references to art-historical sources, literature and the Bible. The Fright (1968) finds a couple sitting up in a bed – though one resembling the funeral rails of a hearse more than a conventional marital refuge. Behind them is a black and white mass suggesting a whale with all its implied glory and terror, and alongside them blue and white stripes suggesting Buchenwald prison garb or a stretch of water. The vessel they are on is all at sea: in art as in literature, a waterborne ship is often a metaphor for the soul. The application of paint is aggressive and intentionally disturbing; the allusions and interpretations are multiple; and there is an echo of Edvard Munch's The Scream.

The Fright appeared in Bellany's diploma show at the RCA. There followed teaching posts in Brighton, Winchester and London, till Bellany was himself a lecturer at the RCA in the mid-1980s. His work was acquired for major collections: the National Portrait Gallery (depicting himself alongside Sir Roy Calne, the surgeon who saved his life, and the cricketer Ian Botham), Tate Britain, and in New York, both theMetropolitan and Modern Art museums. With international success came houses in Saffron Walden, in Essex, and Barga, in Tuscany. Bellany was made an RA in 1991 and appointed CBE in 1994.

His first marriage to Helen lasted for a decade from 1964, and during their second she saw him through the darkest days of his illness. She survives him, as do their two sons, daughter and eight grandchildren.

• John Bellany, artist, born 18 June 1942; died 28 August 2013

Albert Irvin RA. OBE.

A leading figure in British modern art is to show work at the city college which honoured him. Prolific painter Albert Irvin known for his exuberant, vibrant and colourful paintings and prints, will exhibition at Plymouth College of Art later this month.Albert Irvin will exhibition at Plymouth College of Art later this month. He was awarded an honorary fellowship there in 2012, the same year he turned 90. The queen followed Plymouth's lead by awarding him an OBE in the birthday honours this June. 

Albert Irvin RA.OBE. 2010, Allegro, Acrylic on canvas, 152x152cm

 Irvin was deeply influenced by the exhibition of American painting organised by the Tate, London, in 1956. He describes the experience of seeing the Abstract Expressionist pictures – a genre pioneered by Jackson Pollock's and his drip paintings – as "'like a bomb going off". The same could be said for the look of Irvin's overalls – it's as if he was caught in an explosion in a paint factory. The College of Art show will look at his relationship with and role in the birth of abstraction in Britain from the 1950s. Some of the works on show will include pieces from 1960 (Slow Black Night) to 2012 (Memory II). Although he is known for his bright, dazzling paintings, the colour blue is a common thread in the exhibition. The "blue paintings" have appeared irregularly but repeatedly in his output over the decades. He chose to move into abstraction because, as with music this was something simply to be experienced; there was "no need for interpretation". His Plimsoll exhibition at Plymouth College of Art opens on August 19 and continues until September 14.

Albert Irvin RA. OBE.

Albert Irvin RA. OBE. Rosetta 111, Acrylic on canvas, 61x61cm. 

Tapestries by Grayson Perry and a 3D model of a Fiat 500 from Ron Arad have gone on display alongside hundreds of works by artists we have never heard of and, in some cases regretfully, never will, including a healthy contribution from men and women in their 90s.

The occasion is the Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition – held every year, without exception, since 1769 and a seasonal institution as ingrained in British culture as Wimbledon, the Proms and disappointing weather.

More than 1,200 works are on display, almost all available to buy to help students in the RA schools. The 245th show, opening to the public next Monday, has been co-ordinated this year by Royal Academicians the architect Eva Jiricna and the printmaker Norman Ackroyd.

Ackroyd said it had been a thrill and a privilege. "You wouldn't want to do it every year because it's all-consuming, not just time but mentally.

"But this is a great tradition, it is an exhibition selected by artists, hung by artists in the artists' own galleries – we just choose the best art and try to make sense of it on the walls. It is a truly democratic exhibition."

Ackroyd admitted the danger of upsetting friends with his choices. "The thing is, if you hang a picture on the line and in a great position, the artist always thinks that that's their due so you don't get compliments for hanging it well. If you hang it high they tend to thump you."

It was particularly pleasing to have work by older artists hanging alongside work by many young and emerging artists.

"There is hope for us all," said Ackroyd in front of a vividly lime, yellow, pink and lilac work by 90-year-old Albert Irvin.

"He is a gloriously joyful character." Other nonagenarians in the show include Diana Armfield, Bernard Dunston and Alan Davie, who taught Ackroyd at Leeds College of Art in 1958. "It is a lovely thing to be able to hang his pictures 60 years later."

The final room of the show is given over to a series of six tapestries by Perry called The Vanity of Small Differences, which represent a Hogarthian look at the British class system.

One room at this year's show is entirely for portraiture, including new work by Frank Auerbach (with a portrait of the critic Bill Feaver), Michael Craig-Martin and the American artist Alex Katz, showing for the first time.

As well as the show, there are the prizes with the Charles Wollaston award for the most distinguished work in the exhibition going to El Anatsui for his work TSIATSIA – searching for connection, a vast wall-hanging installed in the RA's courtyard.

• The RA summer exhibition runs 10 June-18 August.


Gallery artist Abigail O'Brien chosen to represent Ireland in Kaleidescope, a pan European exhibition at Farmleigh

Abigail O'Brien RHA Behind The i acrylic mounted lambda print diptych.jpg


Contemporary Art from EU Member States at Farmleigh Gallery | Castleknock | Dublin 15 on Tuesday 30th April at 6.30 pm. The exhibition continues until 30th June 2013.

Nick Ervinck | Miroslaw Balka | Idris Khan | Abigail O’Brien | Jasmina Cibic | Katrin Korfmann | Kristine Kursisa | Pernille With Madsen | Cecilia Danell | Simone Gilges | Kaisu Sirvio | Domingo Notaro | Kristina Hansen | Bogdan Rata | Yuri Dojc | Pierre Soulages | Olaf Osten | Agota Krnacs | Kamen Startchev | Gloria Marathefti | Ricardo Santonja | Jiri Sliva | Stefanos Tsivopoulos | Mamadou Gomis | Deimantas Narkevicius | Rui Sanches | Teresa Sciberras | Marc Scozzai