Saturday, November 29, 2008

Visiting the Nora Dunne Gallery: Ben Dunne knows art

A quick google search on Ben Dunne reveals a few things. Firstly he's a "business tycoon". Secondly, he believes in "real, better value" and thirdly he's opening an art gallery. In a recent interview he said:

"The Nora Dunne Gallery will be a friendly place, a place of quality.

"It will be a place where everybody will be welcome, where people will buy many, many pictures and get lots and lots of pleasure out of looking at those pictures."
I find art one of those tricky things to talk or write about. While I can appreciate the creativity, hard work and effort that goes into a piece, I have difficulty envisioning it hanging above the fire place. The price tag on most Irish art in galleries is also forbidding.

Take a quick walk at the top of Stephen's Green Shopping Centre to look at the art in their gallery. Here's a portrait of Bono for €3,700. Try a still life for €2,700. Even a simple watercolour of Connemara will set me back €570. All lovely pieces of art in their own right, but not right for me.

I've never bought a piece of art other than photographs. I've never been able to afford it or see it as an investment.

This, however is something that Dunne wants to change for people with his gallery. He told Ronald Quinlan :
"The whole way that people sell art or buy art in this country will be changed with the opening of the Nora Dunne Gallery. It will change an awful lot of the old ways of doing business in art.

People think because they spend big money on a picture, that it must be very good. The first thing they want to remember is that if they buy it from a gallery, 50 per cent of what they're paying at least is going to the gallery. In my case it's going to be 25 per cent maximum."
Certainly looking around the gallery yesterday highlighted just how he plans to bring this to life. Ably assisted by curator Karen Harper, one of the most genuinely friendly and enthusiastic people I've ever met, gathered in this gallery is a wide range of art at very reasonable and realistic prices.

From cityscapes to seascapes, photographs to stained glass, huge oil paintings to small portraits, Karen's choices represent a huge range of the best of Irish art. "I have a simple criteria" she tells me. "If I could do it myself, I wouldn't sell it here"

Certainly with artists including Philip Gray, Ailve McCormack, Rita Pettigrew, Vincent Keeling, Gerry Flaherty, Elsie Sheridan, Tony Murray, Anne Louise McDermott and a pleasant surprise for me, Sean O Dwyer, there's a unifying theme or choice in the paintings - they are paintings that you could envisage in your home.

Yvonne O' Neill's work.
"Black suit lovers
Red lips pout
Perfect poise...
Lashes flutter
Red nails flash

Swinging hips the dance begins...
Intimate strangers
Perfect partners"
"We're not out to suit the 4% of art collectors", says Karen, "They're catered for. We want to provide the general public with art at affordable prices. I wouldn't choose anything for here that I couldn't see in somebody's home". Indeed, with almost 40 sales since they opened on October 14, it's difficult to argue with such a sentiment.

Comments in the guest book reflect the welcoming nature of the place: "The gallery is lovely. Very relaxing place. Great variety of pictures" writes Claire from Rathmines. "Great to have such a lovely gallery in the area - great art" is written by Shirley from Kimmage. "Well done, will be back again". "Very impressed will be back". "Well done, Ben Dunne." others add.

Even the ones that ask for a coffee shop will be catered to. "That's on the way", says Karen. "Ben thought it better we focus on one business first without worrying about two. But we have all the facilities in place. He's passionate about this place. He wants it to be right".

The coffee shop won't be the only addition. "We've got space upstairs for classes", Karen says, "There's been great interest already. Between felting, patchwork, jewellery, oil, pastels and life drawing, this place will be a hive of activity. The gallery itself can be rented out for occasions too".

Karen, herself a jewellery designer and experienced curator knows every artist exhibiting personally at this stage. "The application process is simple - we ask them to email in three images of their work including the sizes and the price they see it as selling for. If I like it, I take it from there. Ben has seen every piece of art in the gallery - so much so that he came in recently and told me one of the images on the website was upside-down. He's given some of his personal collection to the gallery also."

Indeed the artists themselves seem to have no elitism or snobbery attached to their work - they present it and themselves as simply as possible. Rather than the usual qualification and CV based biographies in some galleries, this gallery chooses to present the artists as they are, real people.

Ailve McCormack: "My Art work doesn't have a specific theme running through it. If I like something I paint it. I am not interested in recreating a scene from relity but more concerned with capturing a particular moment in time."

Gabriella Szazo: "I have never studied the art of drawing or painting, I don't think it is necessary to use studied methods at all. I hope my paintings speak for themselves"

Elsie Sheridan: "I am a self taught artist. Having loved to paint all my life, it was not until 2001, when I gave up working full time to concentrate on painting that I made real progress. I put a lot of effort into developing my own way of expressing my reaction to whatever visually stimulates me. I paint in a strong passionate style using paint liberally.

I see painting as a challenge to improve and grow as an artist. This challenge will take the rest of my life, but what a joy it is to be able to do the one thing I love to do. Paint."

As for the name - it's named after Ben's mother, herself an artist. When asked, Ben said
"It means that I'm going to stick at it, and I hopefully will make it successful. You don't name something after your late mother without it stirring up a certain amount of emotion and love, and a desire for it to be successful and stand for the standards that my mother had."

When asked to choose my favourite piece, I hesitate. My familiarity and respect for Sean's work points immediately to The Traveller (above), but Elsie Sheridan's work (and story) has grabbed me too. I find Vincent Keeling's work so impressive but would happily have Rick Mettler's Phoenix above the fireplace. There's so much choice, so much expression, it's so accessible and attractive that I find it difficult to choose a piece I don't like.

In the end I settle for Phillip Gray's I see the light. A massive canvas, it presents a stark landscape with two figures in the distance. The photo above does it no justice - as indeed the photos I've taken can't capture the gallery's real essence - I'd have happily looked at it for ages, something Karen admits she enjoys from the vantage of the reception desk where herself and the lovely Catherine Michael are ready to welcome people.

The gallery is having its official opening tonight, Saturday 29 November from 6 to 8pm. "Come experience the atmosphere for yourself" is the invitation. All are welcome, though the rumour that Bono will be there may not, in fact, be accurate. With this sort of place and welcome though, you'd never know who'll walk through the doors. I'll certainly be back, hopefully with a credit card.

The Nora Dunne Gallery is open Monday to Friday 11am to 7pm and Saturday 11am to 5pm. It's based on Kimmage Road West and you can see more of their art here and find their blog here.


  1. It's great to see the gallery getting support online, woohoo! I know how much work has gone into it to get this far, so all fingers & toes are crossed for tonight! Best wishes & lots of luck to Karen Harper & her team!

  2. Nice review as always darragh. Keep them coming.

  3. Hehe Darragh i had to smile...My other half works for Philip and i've spent a lot of time staring at his work and talking to him about it.

    You should check out his site-recently he went painting under water whilst sharks were swimming around him :P Hard to explain,have a look at the video on his site.

  4. Thank you very much Daragh absolutely brilliant really beauitful pics.

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  6. I'm a big fan of art galleries. I love that like a good book, album or film, paintings can transport you into another world.

    Choosing a piece for over a fire place is obviously very different considering you'll be looking at it for the rest of forever. For me such a painting would have to contain a never ending story. What I mean by this is that I need to be able to come back and notice something new each time or see it in a different way so that the story grows legs.
    More often than not I imagine something totally different to the artist's starting image, but that's the beauty of art. It is what you make it.
    That painting for over the fire place is no different to a love affair, you'll know it's the one for you when you see it.

  7. another way to cheapen art and let idiots who should be banned from making art, a stage.

  8. Yesterday will be one of those days that will stay with me forever, as an ex employee of Ben I felt a strange obligation to take a spin from the midlands and support the gallery, so had a look at the art online, picked out two and set off, Little did I know that by the end of the day I would have ten pieces of beautiful art, a weekend In New York with 5 big ones, ( in fitz) a free piece as the 1000th sold in the gallery ( history in itself) a box of chocolates and French champagne, ya never cease to amaze the public Ben, looking forward to the 28th and gonna buy something special and Hazel my friend ( who got the rasher) is looking forward to spending a few shekels as well.

    ps thanks to the staff for voluteering to come to New York

  9. I am top of the list...I will carry bags too!
    The Gallery is always full of surprises, everyone that registered got their number signed and it is a 100 Euro voucher for the next Auction.
    The type of work we now sell is even more diverse, Darragh come and visit again, the Auctions are always a good day out!
    Nora Dunne gallery

  10. All i need are the dates, my bags are packed and i will be waiting in the porch of the gallery at the next auction!