Irish Examiner

Art250 as published 27/4/11 in the Irish Examiner

Should you be a closet royalist then perhaps this is not for you. Maybe you’re just curious about Kate’s dress and after half an hour of ogling, ohhing and ahhing you’ll find time to get outside on Friday. If so, then read on. Because it might be worth your while heading into Cork city centre and along to the Cornmarket Centre where from Friday, and for the next three weeks, you’ll be able to pick up a painting by anybody from Gavan Friday to Mick O’Connell for the princely sum of €250.

It is all part of Art250 an initiative started by arts patron Noelle Campbell-Sharpe.

“It’s something we started about two years ago in Dublin,” says Campbell-Sharpe. “We were given a loan of the old abandoned Habitat building on Suffolk Street in Dublin. It was just at the beginning of the recession and art, just like construction really, was being hammered. To be honest it still is getting hammered and that’s why we’re doing this.”

Campbell-Sharpe is one of the directors and founders of an artist’s retreat based in the pre-famine village of Cill Rialaig near Ballinaskelligs, Co. Kerry.  The project is twenty years old this year and ART250 has been put together to celebrate the anniversary and at the same time raise some much needed funding. Like most great endeavours, the Cill Rialaig project came about by accident.

“They wanted to build a ring road around the head,” explains Campbell-Sharpe. “And they were going to knock the ruins down. But we went and bought the ruin of this pre famine village and then we got permission to restore it as an artist’s retreat. The first idea was conservation really.”

From the very start the directors felt that Cill Rialaig should be, as Campbell Smith puts it, “the one place left in the world where money wasn’t the currency”. It was thought that by removing the money issue, the creative spirit would be allowed to blossom.  Since 1991, 2,500 artists have passed through Cill Rialaig’s brightly painted doors and have slept in the neatly restored cottages.

It is a harsh but beautiful place with the sea right on your door step. The isolation is compounded by the lack of modern comforts – no phones, no broadband, no street lights. The silence at night is frightening but exhilarating. It is in short what every artist, writer or musician dreams of.

“I went down there about four or five years ago now,” says artist Eoin O’Connor of his time in Cill Rialaig. “I was offered a place by Noelle and really I got a huge amount of work done. It really helped me to focus everything because there were no distractions. I suppose around that time I was floundering a little bit so being down there really gave me a new perspective on things. “

However, being able to offer artists such freedom costs money and that is where Art250 comes in. The exhibition in the Cornmarket Centre will comprise of about 200 works from former guest-residents of Cill Rialaig. All the paintings are being sold for €250 and as well as the aforementioned Friday and O’Connell other artists include Mick Mulcahy, Cora Murphy and Martin Finnin. There is of course a catch, but a nice catch.

“Over the years we’ve got donations off artists as a thank you,” says Campbell-Sharpe. “Some of the things were great, some of them not so great, some of them were amazing and some were from really big name artists. So what we thought we’d do was frame them up and sell them unidentified. And I think that’s why everyone goes for it. They all sell for the same price you don’t know who did it and it’s only afterwards that you find out. I think it takes a lot of the pressure off people. People buy the painting because they like it not just because of the name.”

 According to Campbell-Sharpe there were queues up to Grafton Street when ART250 visited Dublin two years ago. And she is hoping for more of the same, or at least a queue as far as Hugh Dennehy’s pub, this time out.

One of the pieces that is sure to attract attention in the show is a piece by Edwina Sandys, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill and one of the retreat’s first residents. But that is not the only link Cill Rialaig has with the British aristocracy.

“Kate [Middleton] nearly made it over to Cill Rialaig two years ago,” explains Campbell-Sharpe enthusiastically. “Her parents were waiting for her, but believe it or not Kerry Airport closed due to bad weather. So unfortunately she didn’t make it.”

Not that Campbell-Sharpe is holding that against the future princess in any way and as part of the Art250 exhibition several portraits of Kate and William have been commissioned to mark the occasion of their happy union. Whether portraits of Kate and William are your cup of tea with tiffin or not there is no doubt in O’Connor’s mind that Cill Riallaig is well worth supporting.

“Now for me it wasn’t the landscape and it wasn’t the people it just totally freed up everything,” says the Dubliner. “There are really no responsibilities whatsoever and when you have no responsibilities the work really flies from that. There is of course a stress but it’s you trying to better yourself and that kind of drives you on. Being down there gives you all of that.”

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