Blaise Smith’s SCHOOLWORK, twenty paintings of the Presentation College Carlow is currently on show in VISUAL in Carlow until January 12.
From September 2011 the acclaimed artist spent a year working on 20 painting of the staff and students at Presentation College in Carlow. Entitled SCHOOLWORK the suite of paintings were all done from life and Smith spent four days a weel in the school sitting in the classes and around the school with an easel painting every day life in an Irish secondary school in the 21st century. Smith paints realistically and what he sees is what you get. According to Smith, “The aim of the paintings is to make a portrait of the Irish school system today. Imagine if an artist had been commissioned in 1950 to paint a similar series of paintings - these would be a very interesting social document even now and I hope that my paintings, painted in a medium proven to last 500 years - oil on gesso panel - will be just as fascinating to future generations,” he said. The irony is that Smith was reprimanded 30 years ago every day in school for “wasting time” drawing at the back of the class and last year it was his job.
Smith has brought an inquisitive mind to these classroom scenes. They are not formal potraits but students and teachers are depicted doing exactly what they do, some earnest, some distracted and other benignly fiddling with their hair.
What is most revealing about this collection of paintings is how complex and varied contemporary school life is. The students appear to be proud, happy engaged, participating, relaxing and on occasions even bored. The spectrum of moods represented is a sign of how the artist literally became a fly on the wall. Spending so much time in the school with his easel set up in various classrooms and outside meant that he became an unremarkable fight and eventually blended into the background enough to observe the school, it’s working and he students and teachers as they really are. Not a momentary pose that the annual school photograph would capture but the true anatomy of a school.
This year he was elected an Associate member of Royal Hibernian Academy (Kilkenny’s only member) and just last week won the Irish News Prize in the Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition. For more information see www.blaisesmith.com