20 May 2022

The Arts Interview: Mick O’Dea

Visual artist who has a new exhibition dealing with the War of Independence showing at Limerick City Museum this month

The Arts Interview: Mick O’Dea

Mick O’Dea's new exhibition deals with the War of Independence

Born and raised in Ennis I have one brother, three sisters, and attended CBS primary school in Ennis, followed by St Flannan’s College.

I subsequently attended The National College of Art and Design in Dublin during which time I was an exchange student at the University of Massachusetts. I finally attended Winchester School of Art in Barcelona where I completed my Master’s Degree in Fine Art. When I was a student at NCAD I frequently hitched to the Limerick School of Art and Design where I would spend long periods drawing while staying with my friend Tom Shortt. As a consequence I got to know, among others, the painters Charles Harper, the late Jack Donovan, Kate McDonagh Donald Teskey, Sam Walsh, and John Shinnors.

The inspiration for my art comes from the 1960s and early 1970s when I was exposed to a bewildering range of fascinating people from all walks of life who visited our pub-grocery shop and farm.

It really was a ‘university of life’, peopled by individuals who had history, stories, insights or who were a story in-themselves. I remember the Aherns from Limerick who brought fruit and vegetables to the town of Ennis. Indeed, you would hear Mr Ahern on the Street before you would see him. Jackie Keane from Keane’s Bakery in Limerick, was a gem of a man. Indeed, I can still remember his glee whilst looking around the corner of the shop after bringing in the bread the day following Limerick’s victory in the All Ireland Final of 1973. He enjoyed rubbing it in!

Painting portraits led to various commissions including the official portrait of President Michael D Higgins, now hanging at Leinster House.

I am also a painter of landscapes but I approach the subject like a portrait painter but painting landscapes of the head instead. The other strand of my work involves an engagement with the history of the War of Independence and more recently an exhibition held at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) to mark the centenary of 1916. That exhibition, ‘The Foggy Dew’, responded to 1916 and the complete destruction of the RHA with a large installation of sculptures and paintings. Re-examining our history has enabled me to be more overtly subjective in my work.

Recently, I was invited by the artist and curator Maurice Quillinan to exhibit my work concerning the War of Independence at the Limerick City Museum.

With this in mind, I put together a selection of paintings which I feel will give the public a sense of what I am about from a historical and technical/innovative perspective. My desire to do things, to respond to people, places, situations, or proposals by making paintings, drawings, and sculptures, creates a surplus of material that I need to have exposed.

Artists are keen observers and realists, (not fantasists or sentimentalists!), who are driven by a desire to get to the truth, which is not what society often wants but what is occasionally necessary.

Artists need to make their work, regardless of any commercial success. If they do not properly attend to their calling, to make this work, they will become incomplete individuals, carrying an emotional scar throughout their lives, which is not how it should be. Attending College is important for any artist in this day and age. Unless you are privileged, and can afford to pick and choose from the vantage point of knowing what is going on, attending Art College creates new possibilities, accelerating the type of information and knowledge that one can absorb, which in turn enables individuals to make sound decisions. More importantly you will meet contemporaries who can become positive role models. The late painter, Stephen McKenna, in an introduction to an RHA catalogue some years ago said something to the effect that; ‘attending Art College will not make you an artist, but on the other hand, Art College can not prevent artists from emerging’.

Limerick has always been an enlightened artistic centre with a tradition for producing some of the best painters and artists in Ireland.

It has good infrastructure in the form of public Galleries and Museums for a city of its size, an excellent Art School, and a long tradition of organising major international Art Exhibitions on a regular basis. Indeed, the University of Limerick, in particular, values the Arts. So, the city ‘walks-the-walk’, while some others merely ‘talk-the-talk’.

Mick’s exhibition will run until the end of August at the Limerick City Museum, on Henry Street. For more information please phone: 061 557740 or see:

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