Our visit

“This article is about a wonderful exhibition in Ireland I was privileged to take part in from November 22 to February this year.” David Wiseman LG

It took place at the Highlanes Gallery, one of Ireland’s most important public galleries, in Drogheda, a large town close to Dublin. It was entitled The Tyranny of Ambition, this title being intrinsic to the spirit of the exhibition. It consisted of 20 Irish, British, Estonian, Syrian and American artists. The title relates evocatively to the heartfelt principle behind the exhibition which was the brainchild of painter Graham Crowley. Graham was the inspiration behind the exhibition and he instigated, organized and curated it with passion and enthusiasm together with Aoife Ruane the gallery director.  

With gallery director Aoife Ruane

Graham’s intention was to “share with a wider audience…the kind of painting that frustrates and subverts expectations. Painting that doesn’t rely upon celebrity or issue. Painting of true ambition.  The idea and subsequently the title was inspired by the film Florence Foster Jenkins by Stephen Frears. One of the central characters declared that once he had faced up to what he called ‘The Tyranny of Ambition’ only then could he start to live, to be happy.“

The exhibition was full of diversity and quality, all the artists making complex, subtle and poetic painting. The exhibition showcased artists who are driven to make paintings they NEED to paint, for themselves and their audience, not what they feel they OUGHT to paint for fashion, ego and the art market. One of the artists in the show, Ken Kiff, who died in 2001, epitomized this attitude. I was privileged to know Ken and exhibit with him and he was a humble and quiet man, who shunned publicity. His whole life was totally devoted to making his own unique personal paintings, completely untouched by the latest ephemeral art fashions. 

“Practice any art….not to get money and fame but to experience becoming, to find what’s inside you, to make your soul grow” Kurt Vonnegut

In the superb exhibition catalogue, Graham Crowley recommended that there should be a “move away from brand”, away from what the Australian critic Robert Hughes referred to as ‘people buying with their ears, rather than their eyes’.

Highlanes is a beautiful, spacious, light-filled gallery where the paintings were hung with care and space to breathe. Even though a prestigious gallery in Ireland, it is at the same time very much part of the local community, not aloof or obscure. The gallery is run with passion by Aoife the director and her dedicated team. Mostly these are artists themselves working part-time and they were a joy to talk to when we visited the gallery. It was obvious that the gallery was not just a job for them but a real labour of love. 

We had a great 4-day trip to Drogheda and Dublin, our first visit to Ireland,  towards the end of the show. During our time there it became obvious that the attitude and support for the visual arts in Ireland are so different to here. The gallery is almost entirely supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and the local council. All the artists in the exhibition were paid properly to exhibit as if we were a musician or an actor. Here we have to pay galleries to exhibit!  At the moment there is even a pilot scheme in place in Ireland to pay young artists a weekly wage to support them. There is a natural celebration of the arts in Ireland long gone here with years of government repression of the arts on all levels in the UK.

The Arts Council of Ireland states that “The Arts Council is dedicated to supporting a vibrant community of visual artists, visual arts groups and organisations so that the public can experience the highest standard of the visual arts, in urban and in rural parts of Ireland. We consider visual arts to include …painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, live art/performance, film, video and other digital imaging media.“ 

We had a great time on our visit to Drogheda not least our first visit to the gallery which, when we arrived, was totally buzzing with the opening of a vibrant exhibition in another gallery space of local disabled artists. It is very important to the gallery that they are a positive force within the local community.  On our second visit, local primary school children had been to the gallery producing a display of wonderful colourful work in response to the paintings in “The Tyranny of Ambition” exhibition. 

Some of the children’s work in response to the exhibition

The highlights of our visit naturally included a visit to Dublin, being able to see the exhibition in Drogheda in such a wonderful space and the warm friendly people, but also the few hours we spent in The Mariner pub by the River Boyne with the odd pint of delicious Guinness. Like the contrast between the support for the arts in Ireland to that in the UK, there is no comparison between the Guinness in Ireland and the poor version of it in the UK. 

David Wiseman LG 2023

David Wiseman in the Mariner pub

The Tyranny of Ambition took place at Highlanes Gallery, 36 Saint Laurence Street, A92 F7PH Drogheda, Ireland from 26 Nov 2022 – 18 Feb 2023