• Tony O’Malley Self-Portraits

    O'Malley Invite ImageA Centenary Exhibition 2013
    October 19th – December 22nd, 2013

    The Butler Gallery was honoured to present Tony O’Malley Self-Portraits: A Centenary Exhibition 2013, the first exhibition dedicated entirely to the self-portraits of the renowned Irish artist, Tony O’Malley (1913-2003). The exhibition is curated by Ciarán Benson and Brian Lynch.

    Tony O’Malley holds an important and distinguished position in the history of twentieth century Irish art. A highly respected and beloved artist, his works are represented in all major Irish museums and included in the most significant public and private collections of Irish art. Throughout O’Malley’s working life he made self-portraits. They became a way for the viewer to know him. O’Malley taught himself to draw and paint, and in the early days the self-portrait was a convenient immediate means in which to put marks to paper whenever a mirror was available. The mirror was a non-judgmental, reliable ally.

    Through the diversity of his self-portraits, we see O’Malley’s practice evolve. The self-portraits stare back at us, mostly unexpressive and unsmiling, sometimes severe, sometimes with one eye closed. Always we see O’Malley’s distinctive strong nose, bearded face, and a bald head at times dressed with skull cap, in later years with sunhat, protection from the hot Bahamian rays. From time to time, we see O’Malley viewed from only the side of a mirror, with the studio or the garden taking prominence in the remainder of the frame. The monochromatic self-portraits are stark and economical and echo the words of the artist himself, ‘The more I paint the less of myself is there’. O’Malley has left us a great gift: a wealth of self-portraits by which to remember him.

    Cíarán Benson and Brian Lynch have, through their close friendship with Tony O’Malley, and their knowledge of his work over the decades, curated an exhibition of extraordinary personal insight. Throughout their essay, ‘The Ego Vanishes’ in the catalogue especially produced for this exhibition, they have astutely contextualised O’Malley’s self-portraits in the tradition of the medium, and shared with us much about the man behind the works. Through these recollections and images we see the shifts of styles in O’Malley’s process, revealed beautifully through the nuances of his self-portraits that have been highlighted in this exhibition and catalogue.


    Ciarán Benson is Professor Emeritus of Psychology in University College Dublin. His books include The Cultural Psychology of Self: Place Morality and Art in Human Worlds (London/New York, Routledge, 2001) and The Absorbed Self: Pragmatism, Psychology and Aesthetic Experience (London, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993).
    In 2007 he was Royden Davis Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He is a member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and was Chairman of An Chomhairle Ealaíon/The Arts Council (1993-1998).

    Brian Lynch is a poet, novelist, screenwriter and publisher (the Duras Press). He edited ‘Tony O’Malley’, a large-scale book about the artist in 1996, and in 2005 ‘Tony O’Malley – The Visual Diaries’, both published by the Butler Gallery. He is a member of Aosdána.  www.brianlynch.org

    With thanks to the Arts Council for essential annual funding and to the OPW, FÁS, The Heritage Council and Kilkenny Local Authorities for additional assistance. Grateful thanks are extended to Jane O’Malley for her enduring commitment to the legacy of her husband Tony O’Malley.

    The full colour catalogue is available to purchase here.