Michael  Farrell  


Born in Kells, Co. Meath in 1940, Micheal Farrell studied drawing, painting and graphic design in St. Martin's School of Art and Colchester School of Art from 1956 to 1960. On his return to Ireland, Farrell worked in Ardmore Studios, meeting artist Robert Ballagh, who he subsequently appointed as his assistant on two large portrait commissions. Like Ballagh, Farrell would become known for his political sensibilities particularly in the wake of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

His early work focused mainly on Celtic influences, adapting motifs from early Pre-Christian and Early-Christian Irish art and inserting them into abstract compositions, which he dubbed Celtic Abstraction. He also adapted motifs from more commercial sources. His Pressé series for example was inspired by the mechanical French lemon press used for citron pressé. His training as a graphic designer is apparent in these works. Several of the motifs from this period would be revisited and incorporated into more radical, politicised contexts. His lemon press motif for example would come to represent explosions and blood-drops during ‘The Troubles’.

It was the unfolding conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s that would bring about a shift in Farrell’s focus, as he sought a way to express his deep concern for the suppression of civil rights and the subsequent atrocities which convulsed his homeland. Disillusioned, he moved to Paris in 1971, where he would live for most of his life. Though his work continued to focus on issues of Irish identity, his physical disconnectedness from events back home gave his work a more detached mood. One of his most celebrated series ‘Madonna Irlanda’ is testament to this. His personification of Ireland as Louisa O’Murphy, the daughter of an Irish soldier and mistress to Louis XVI, introduced a sense of his personal political perspective into his work. Taken from Boucher’s famous portrait, his portrayal of Ireland as a mistress to foreign empire was ‘scandalously at odds with pious stereotypes’ and was his way of striking against the roots of traditional depictions of Ireland in art.

Towards the end of his career, Farrell tackled other Irish atrocities such as Bloody Sunday and the Great Famine which, though they enjoyed some success in the artistic community, made less of an impact than his Madonna Irlanda series. In 1998, however, he reacted immediately in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing and produced notable works depicting the massacre and its aftermath. His style had become looser at this stage, no longer employing his teardrop motif, nor the strict precision typical of his earlier work. On this series, Tina Darb O’Sullivan writes, Farrell paints free-hand, often leaving raw canvas and pencil lines, adding to the sense of disarray and panic.

Near the end of his life he moved with his wife to Provence, where he painted mainly country scenes; landscapes that echoed the works of Van Gogh among others. He died in 2000.

Decorated with countless awards, with his work represented in numerous important collections, exhibitions and galleries, Michael Farrell is considered one of Ireland’s most accomplished and internationally-recognised artists. A major retrospective of his work took place at the Crawford Gallery, Cork and the RHA, Dublin in 2014.

Artist's Gallery