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 was 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.Purchase Self-Portrait Catalogue