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Rita Duffy’s new Crawford Art Gallery Collection inspired by residency in Trinity Long Room Hub

August 24, 2023 - Former Artist in Residence at the Trinity Long Room Hub, Rita Duffy has highlighted how her time with Trinity’s Arts and Humanities community was formative to the fascinating new collection now on exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.

'The Emperor’s New Clothes’ is a series of ten drawings which Duffy made during her residency at the Trinity Long Room Hub from 2019 to 2020. The artist said the drawings began as a response to President Trump’s daily briefings at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Writing in June 2020 for the Trinity Long Room Hub she said,  “I self-isolated in Dublin, staying close to my drawing board and working through the virus. I find my resilience in art, returning regularly to Goya's war etchings, Honoré Daumier and Hieronymus Bosch. They never fail to pull me in and nourish. I watched Trump’s daily briefings in disbelief.”

Rita Duffy, The Emperor’s New Clothes, 2020 © Rita Duffy

“I limited myself to reading newspapers online, communicating with loved ones, and taking part in discussions online. Early one morning, I began this series of intense graphic drawings. The 'emperor has no clothes' and minute Lilliputian figures scramble in the ‘Tiger King’ world that I witnessed unravelling.”

During this time, Duffy also took part in the Trinity Long Room Hub’s “Rethinking Democracy” online discussion series, in partnership with the Society of Fellows & Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, in response to Covid-19. At the time she commented, “I listened intently to American law professor Melody Barnes speaking with passionate intelligence; she was first person I heard to mention the name 'George Floyd'. I returned to the drawings and two days later the USA exploded onto our TV screens. I continue drawing in the sincere belief that at times such as this, ART is the only thing strong enough to keep us from destroying ourselves.”

Now, three years later, Duffy’s new collection ‘Persistent Illusion’, on display at the Crawford Art Gallery until 30 October 2023 (extended date), takes its genesis from the original drawings that were conceived during her Trinity residency.  Her new collection, recently acquired by the Crawford for the National Collection, is a series of largescale works that address urgent themes of planetary crisis and political chaos. Launching the exhibition in June, Rita spoke of the influence of these early drawings and the residency at the Trinity Long Room Hub in sustaining the early phase of this work.

Rita Duffy, Partition, 2023, oil on linen, 65 x 90 cm © Rita Duffy

Speaking recently to RTE’s Arena programme with Sean Rocks, Rita responded to the notion of art as a form of protest and considered its relationship to current events within a society:  “I think it’s important that artists choose to engage”, she said, explaining that art allows people “to enter into a state of confusion” and the “best solutions come from that willingness to give up very firm, dramatic opinion.”

Her attention to the political was also the focus of Duffy’s ‘The Raft Project, 2019’ which was launched on the eve of the passing of final Brexit legislation, 30 January 2019, and hosted by the Trinity Long Room Hub. The inaugural installation, featuring a building veil on the Front Square facing side of the Trinity Long Room Hub building, was a response by the artist to Brexit and the border poll discussions. The photomontage re-invents French painter Théodore Géricault’s oil on canvas, ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ (1818-19), which depicts the shipwreck of French frigate Méduse in 1816. The installation received widespread media attention as well as much curiosity from French tourists to Trinity College Dublin.

As part of Culture Night 2020, The Trinity Long Room Hub also launched a specially commissioned artwork by Duffy which formed part of the artist’s ‘Anatomy of Hope’ series, conceived in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and which was later acquired by Trinity College Dublin and is now on display in the Arts Building.

Rita Duffy was born in Belfast and was awarded a B.A. from the Art & Design Centre and an M.A. in Fine Art at the University of Ulster. She was elected to Aosdana in 2017. She is one of Northern Ireland's ground-breaking artists who began her work concentrating primarily on the figurative/narrative tradition. Her art is often autobiographical, including themes and images of Irish identity, history and politics. Rita Duffy’s work has grown and evolved but remains intensely personal with overtones of the surreal.

Rita’s work as an artist is the subject of a new book by Dr Jennifer Keating (University of Pittsburgh), which is to be published by Palgrave in September 2023, and which also features Mairead McClean, a Decade of Centenaries Artist in Residence at the Trinity Long Room Hub in association with the Beyond 2022 project.  Portraits of Irish Art in Practice:  Rita Duffy, Mairéad McClean, Paula McFetridge and Ursula Burke includes four portrait essays that document the biographical details of each practitioner, her education, emerging practice and an analysis of key work in the context of Irish politics and culture, and in the context of Ireland’s role in a global community.

Highlighting the significance of Rita’s work, Dr Keating pointed to Rita’s ability “to comment, explore and interrogate the present with depth and masterful command of historical influences and hopeful visions of rectifying past injustices in possible futures.  Her prolific work is a testament to these features of the past, present and imagined futures, and reflects a deeply rooted courage to use her practice as a mechanism that asks us to look at ourselves anew.”

Dr Keating praises the momentous acquisition by the Crawford Gallery of key pieces from Rita’s collection for the National Collection: “Historically, public funds, public office and public rhetoric have not documented, acknowledged or celebrated the crucial role women have played in private and public contributions to the evolving Irish nation state. That precedent is slowly changing as public institutions like the Crawford rectify these public omissions.” She also notes the importance of artist residencies and university fellowship programmes in helping artists to feel publicly supported in their efforts to make “novel aesthetic contributions”, adding that “we all benefit from this institutional support for deeply talented artists in their prime, and we each benefit from the challenging and beautiful work that these powerful women create.”

Watch the Anatomy of Hope video here.

Read Rita’s contribution to our Covid-19 blog. The artwork in this collection is also by Rita.

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