SPEAKING at the opening of the Limerick School of Art and Design graduate show, where he was making a historic first visit as a minister opening the student show, Minister of Arts Jimmy Deenihan glowingly referred to the school as “one of the best in world”.
Even adjusting this reference for an understandable dollop of hyperbole in front of an expectant audience, the LIT-run LSAD really does boast a burgeoning and deserved reputation on the international stage, recently being ranked among the top 50 fashion schools in the world, while graduates of all six disciplines on offer in the college - product design (ceramics), fashion design, visual communications, painting, printmaking and sculpture and combined media - regularly make a dramatic impact on their respective fields after their instruction on the Clare Street campus.
Mr Deenihan, to his credit, spent more than an hour touring the hallways and corridors of the college, taking time to talk to students about their work in the graduate show - the annual showcase of work from over 150 students.
In the painting department, the arts minister was particularly taken with the work by Corbally’s Ramona O’Halloran, whose bright and vibrant acrylic pieces reflect a darker undertone, with strong social commentary to the fore.
Explaining the thought process behind her work, called ‘Uniformity’, Ms O’Halloran said it “explores the search for our place within our environment”.
“This search often leads to conforming to the demands of our surroundings in order to feel safe and part of something. The way we look, the clothes we wear, how we speak and the choices we make can all be seen as the uniform of our environment,” she offered - the striking visuals of the pieces adorning the walls behind her.
“It as about assigning or affiliating yourself with certain groups in society in order to be safe or part of something. That was the basis for the theme of my work and the reason I chose this form of clothing was because I felt it represented the group - it could have been any group,” she added.
Ramona would later be awarded the top prize of €1,000 in the Annual Revenue Commissioners Awards, with her painting colleague Cillian Boyd taking runner-up spot of €750.
Mr Deenihan, who was the guest of honour to officially open the show, would later proclaim it to be “of the highest standard”.
“It is very diverse across the whole six disciplines, very challenging,” he said.
“From the point of view of contemporary art, it is going in different directions like it should, some of the graduates are experimenting and striving to be different in a time when it is difficult to be different and be successful.
“So they are challenging themselves and are producing very challenging work for the observer,” he added.
The minister, who himself attended the former PE college in Thomond that is now part of the University of Limerick, said he had “always recognised this school as being one of the best in the country”.
“This school has a great tradition and all of the students should be very proud to have passed through it,” he said to the 150 graduates and their families who gathered in the sunshine in the courtyard in LSAD to hear him speak.
“I want to recognise the commitment of the students and staff and the great history this school has,” he continued.
“The fact that this school is now ranked 42nd in the world for fashion design makes a major statement, so those of you leaving here in the six disciplines are going out of here with an advantage over your peers in other colleges in this country, remember that,” he added.
Mike Fitzpatrick, head of school in LSAD, also paid tribute to the work created by the students, who he said have “contributed so much to this college over the last four years, they have developed themselves, each other and created a great group here”.
“I hope that many Limerick people will come down to the School to see the work,” he continued. “The works on exhibit range over all of media and multimedia and are many themes in play, in painting alone the themes range from politics of opposition and protest to personal concerns and autobiography. In the main it presents a very diverse range of work from personal material to cultural identity,” he added.
All hyperbole aside, the graduate students speak in the same glowing terms as the minister to the college they are about to graduate from, and in turn about the bustling and vibrant art scene in Limerick that they are now about to become part of and continue to feed - a vital incubation process they need before unleashing their skills on the wider world.
The graduate show is open to the public until Friday. www.lit.ie/lsad.