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ARTIST: Kevin McAleenan

Irish artist paints emotional bridge to home for diaspora

A Co. Down artist is making a name for himself with the global Irish family thanks to his unique style of Irish artwork.

A native of Co Down and a graduate of the Ulster University Art College, Kevin McAleenan was one of the country’s top commercial illustrators for 15 years, working primarily in advertising and publishing.

Seeking a more personal outlet, he began painting. This is Kevin’s 22nd year as a professional artist, exhibiting original works in selected galleries throughout Ireland and beyond at leading international art fairs and also undertaking many private commissions. 

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His work is in the collections of the Office of Public Works Dublin, The Open University, Queen’s University Belfast and in private European, Far Eastern and American collections. 

It was during lockdown that Kevin's artwork really caught the eye as he completed two large scale paintings featuring Ha'penny Bridge and Liffey Street Lower in Dublin.

"As the rules relaxed a little between lockdowns I was able to meet with an old friend, originally from Dublin and now living 80 miles away in my home town of Banbridge, to give him a print of 'Liffey Street Lower' and 'Ha'penny," explained Kevin. 

Kevin's painting of Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin

Kevin's painting of Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin

"He went unusually quiet and was close to tears as he looked at the prints. We talked a while, he really missed his city and its people and lockdown was taking its toll on him.  

"Over the years I had sketched the landmark a few times but never progressing beyond that. My friends' reaction left me wondering why I had I decided to paint it twice now.

"Lockdowns hadn't changed the way I worked, being isolated in my studio has been my routine for 35 years. But usually, after spending up to eight weeks on a painting, I'd escape to a gallery in central Dublin to deliver it, then ‘make a day of it’ with whoever came along to help me, grabbing my favourite sandwich in Powerscourt Townhouse, before hitting the book and record stores."

Kevin said his work on the new paintings helped him get through the lockdown period. 

"The scale and level of detail in each of these 'pictures of Dublin' I had painted, reconstructed from sketches, memories and a sense of the place, kept me totally absorbed for months at a time during lockdowns. 

"I can now see it wasn’t as much about capturing the flow of the iconic arch, it was about my longing to be in Dublin, freely among the flow of people, some of the 30,000 locals and visitors who use the ‘Ha’penny’ daily to bridge the divide of the north and south sides of Dublin.

"The paintings had formed an emotional bridge to Dublin when the possibility of visiting had suddenly disappeared during lockdown."

Kevin says he hopes his work resonates with the Irish diaspora. 

"Thankfully, as life returns to normal, we can enjoy being among them again crossing over The Liffey.

Kevin's painting of Liffey Street Lower in Dublin

Kevin's painting of Liffey Street Lower in Dublin

"I hope my work resonates with those further afield and helps maintain a bridge to home."

Speaking about his unique style of artwork, Kevin added: 

"My process is a lesson in meditative patience with original pieces taking up to two months to complete," he added. "Painting is like a high-wire act for me, constantly balancing what I see on one side with what I feel about it on the other."

A growing collection of Limited edition prints including 'Liffey Street Lower' and 'Ha'penny', hand signed, titled and numbered by Kevin McAleenan, are available to buy on his website here and you can follow him on social media.

 

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