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Pop-Up Gallery: KARE portraits by Claire Murphy

We are delighted to welcome KARE portraits by Claire Murphy to our Pop-Up Gallery in the Riverbank Arts Centre foyer from 22 October. This exhibition is a result of a collaborative project between artist Claire Murphy and KARE, an organisation that provides support to people who have an intellectual disability and their families.

Between May and June 2021, the artist met via video with 30 individuals who are supported by KARE.  During the video calls, Claire chatted with participants and drew their portraits.  The process was an enriching experience for both the artist and the participants, who spoke to the artist about their lives, and their experiences through lockdown, sang and laughed together, discussed music, hobbies, family, friends, relationships, pets, all the while enjoying watching their portraits being drawn.


Special thanks to all the participants whose portraits are included in this exhibition:
Shauna Bradley,  Karuna Whelan,  Donna Dunne,  Stephanie Halton, Patricia Quinn,  Mag Rochford, Geraldine Roche,   Rebecca Buckley, Noelle Burns, Cian Lindsay,  Annabel McKechnie,  Una Kenny,  Marie Therese Conliffe, Michelle Cullen,  Margaret McGarvey, Danielle Mc Nally,  Tess Mangan,  Bernadette Murphy, Leon O’Keeffe, Anthony Byrne,  William Havens, Stephen Prendergast, Sheila Byrne, Dec O’Connor, Mary Kinsella,  Jennifer Howell, Colette Cullen, Jenny Stafford, Amy Crofton and David Cully* (1971-2021). 

How did this portrait project begin?
As well as my art practice, I work part time as a disability support worker in Stewarts Care, and during lockdown 2020 we used zoom video calls to maintain contact with our service users.  During that time I realised the potential of this new communication medium for visual arts, and ran many art based meetups, both with groups and individuals.  This gave me the idea for the KARE portrait project, as I wanted to run an inclusive socially engaged arts project in Kildare.  I made contact with KARE through their website , and the staff were enthusiastic and helpful with organising the project.  I applied and received funding from Kildare County Council Arts Service through the Arts Grant scheme.  The staff in KARE were amazing throughout the project, both through the administration and coordination of the project, they did a call out for participants, and organised all the video calls, and also the staff who supported the individuals in their homes and local services were instrumental in making this project happen.  Finally, meeting the participants during the video calls was a real privilege, we had really lovely interactions that made this project so worthwhile for me and hopefully for them too.

As an artist, what impact has this particular portrait project had on you?
This project has helped build my confidence as an artist, through successfully pitching and executing a project that engaged with the participants in a positive way.  It was incredibly enjoyable meeting the participants during our one hour video calls and getting to chat to them.

What were the challenges of working online/via zoom?
The benefits of being able to use video calls meant this project was able to happen at a time when we were being encouraged to limit our contacts and social distance.  It provided an experience that without technology would have been difficult to organise, during a time when any distraction from the restrictions was welcome. 

The difficulties of creating portraits online were as expected, issues with connections and technology that we have all been dealing with in the last year and a half.  Also, I had less control as an artist on issues such as lighting and position, but fortunately the participants and the staff supporting them were great in moving around and helping me find a good pose to work from.  

What feedback have you had from people who sat for portraits? Did many enjoy the process and experience of seeing an artist at work?

The feedback from participants was so positive – many saying things like they couldn’t believe how I had got them, and that they were amazed how quickly it looked like them. 

What drew you to this particular work and will you likely be working on similar projects in the future?
I have been drawing portraits for several years, and building up skills, and have become proficient in quick portraits- I have a job and two young children, so time is always an issue, which has necessitated this skill to get anything done.  I loved the idea of engaging with  a group of people who have never had their portraits drawn.  Experience of working in the field of disability care myself drew me to this group. I hope to do other group portrait projects in the future. 

Claire Murphy is a Kildare based visual artist. She studied Art Education in NCAD, and works in the disability sector. Her work includes portraiture, landscape and figurative painting and drawing.  She is interested in using traditional drawing and painting skills to render form and capture likeness, and to catch some elements of the sitter’s personality.  

This exhibition of portraits will run in the Pop Up Gallery at Riverbank Arts Centre from 22nd- 31st October.  KARE PORTRAITS was supported by an Arts Grant from Kildare County Council Arts Service. Thanks to all the KARE team who supported the project. Special thanks to all the participants and their families for taking part. Following this exhibition, these portraits will be given to each of the sitters.

*David Cully passed away earlier this year – many thanks to his family for allowing his portrait to be included in the exhibition. They noted the following:  David will always be remembered by his family and friends with a smile on their faces.  David could light up a room with his cheeky smile and bubbly personality. “Go on ye good thing!”