While enjoying a glass of wine with friends at our monthly book club last week, one of the ladies announced that she had been to the National Gallery in Dublin during the Easter holidays and there was a stunning portrait of Henry Shefflin occupying pride of place in one of the most prestigious positions in the building.
I expressed mild curiosity, knowing that it must have been an honour for Henry Shefflin…. until I learned that the portrait was the work of a Tipperary man, Gerry Davis!
Gerry Davis is from Cahir and is a passionate and prolific artist, based in Limerick’sWickham St. Studios. In 2016, Gerry won the covetted Hennessy Portrait Prize with his painting ‘Sean’, a depiction of the Wickham St Studio Director Sean Guinan.
The prize was not just €15,000 in cash but the honour of a €5000 commission to create a portrait to hang in the National Gallery as part of the National Portrait Collection!
Gerry is a graduate of Limerick School of Art Design; he paints and exhibits regularly and is clearly passionate about his work and chosen profession.
His work is heavily influenced by his presence in Limerick and living the life of a contemporary artist in the midst of recession. He displays realism and psychological turmoil openly and shamelessly and this is probably what draws his audience in and speaks to them most of all!
Wickham St. Studios is the heart of his creativity. It began as a Creative Limerick project devised in 2009 where a vacant business premises was turned into studios, enabling artists to rent a space, create a base for their work and be inspired by those artists, and indeed the city, around them.
Gerry’s interest in art began with digital imagery and photoshop… and when he began to draw, his ideas came from those images. He moved on to oil painting then, his subject matter becoming more real – finding art in the everyday.. and portraiture, using friends and family as models for his work.
His work amazes his audience as Gerry finds art in the most ordinary of things; the stairs to the studio, the heater in the corner, the remnants of previous artists long after they have moved out of the studio… Its a ‘drastic simplification of daily life..’, according to Gerry. ‘It’s personal, and has a socio-economic facit that is hard to miss.’
But he has also explored the surreal combinations of domestic items with completely unrelated environments… showing a wild and eclectic taste that is new and exciting to the untrained eye, such as I!
‘In Art College, you think your life will be all surrounded by art and artists and creativity – the the reality is very different’ says Gerry.
However, the opportunity to have a portrait commissioned for the National Art Gallery is once in a lifetime!
Gerry feels that portraiture ‘exists independently of the artistry world – its more accessible than other forms such as contemporary art, to which people might find hard to relate.’ Its an important aspect of art to have it ‘objectively pleasing’ and so with Henry Shefflin as a subject and hurling as the heart, it was the perfect way to appeal a wider audience for Gerry.
But why is he depicted in a suit and also not in Croke Park?
Gerry answers simply,’ that’s what he was wearing on the day and thats where I met him!’ ( that was me told! )
However, the significance of the setting was not entirely accidental. Gerry explains that this shows grandeur and ordinariness in one picture.
Henry Shefflin is shown in the image on his own club pitch in Ballyhale, Co Kilkenny; its where his hurling dream began.. he makes us bring the sport back to a local level, to its heart. It shows that heroes are cultivated by their community.
So whats next for Gerry Davis? ‘I have just started work for a new exhibition in 2019.. there is no theme yet; I tend to paint for while and then retrospectively note a pattern or underlying similarity…. that decides my theme and title.!’
It was a joy for me to chat to Gerry, examine some of his work, as a complete amateur, and it felt as though I was stepping into the world of finding beauty in the mundane, exhilaration in the ordinary, almost a journey in mindfulness.
I wish Gerry well in his next exhibition and he has certainly gained a new supporter!
Examples of exhibitions include What Has Been Shall Always Never Be Again at Ormston House, Limerick, The Forest That Hears and The Field That Sees at Damer House, Roscrea and a solo show, Studio, at Pallas Projects, Dublin.
Find out more www.gerrydavis.net
By Eva Hartigan