Nuala Herron’s local people tell a unique story of Derry through art

Nuala Herron and self portrait.
Nuala Herron and self portrait.
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Award-winning artist Nuala Herron’s up-and-coming exhibition in Derry tells a story of the city through its people.

Showing at The Playhouse, Artillery Street, between November 9 and November 23, the exhibition features oil paintings and drawings of local people as a way of telling the story of the 2013 City of Culture through portraiture.

Civil rights activist Dermie McClenaghan is one of the local people depicted by Nuala Herron in her new exhibition at The Playhouse.

Civil rights activist Dermie McClenaghan is one of the local people depicted by Nuala Herron in her new exhibition at The Playhouse.

Derry-born Nuala says it’s people that make Derry what it is.

“As I had ten months to create the exhibition, I knew I could only paint and draw a certain number of people. I tried to choose a variety of characters from three different generations, from both sides of the city, who contribute to the fabric of the city in a meaningful way.

“I wanted to represent people who weren’t necessarily recognised for their contribution to the city and not in any way commercial. I included myself in this group mainly because it was convenient and practical to start by painting myself. But, I suppose, I would fit into this category as I wouldn’t consider myself a well-known artist in the city and, like many local artists, have often been rejected for funding and applications to exhibit in galleries within the city.

“I have exhibited internationally and been painting for a long time but would not be known by many people in Derry.”

Well-known local GP, Dr. Vincent Cavanagh, is one of the local people painted by Nuala Herron.

Well-known local GP, Dr. Vincent Cavanagh, is one of the local people painted by Nuala Herron.

Nuala’s “selection of faces” for the exhibition include a photographer, singer/songwriter, music producers, a writer, and a doctor.

“It helped that these people had great faces, such as Dermie McClenaghan, one of the many people in the city with a passion for civil rights and among those who were the backbone of the civil rights movement.”

Always interested in painting the human form, Nuala says representing it realistically is both difficult and challenging for any artist.

“For this reason, I’ve always been more interested in representational painting rather than abstract. My paintings often look quite abstract to begin with and some people might think they look better and finished after one day of painting! But I find it more satisfying to spend months on a painting and try to improve each time.

“Many artists have inspired me but, ultimately, I would like to be able to bring flesh to life in the way that Lucien Freud did. I love painting flesh and telling a story through paint. Although I started out painting from life, I now work from photographs as it’s more practical and can sometimes give me more freedom.

“I would like to return to painting from life and combine this with the aid of photographs...but I would need a bigger studio. I have always taught Art in secondary schools part-time to fund my practice. At the moment, I am teaching art to blind and special needs children which is very challenging and, at the same time, inspiring.”

Nuala says she chose to exhibit her new work in the gallery space in the main foyer of The Playhouse to make it as accessible as possible.

“The Playhouse will have many visitors from far and wide attending all the events so I felt the foyer space was an appropriate place to gain a wider audience.

Not hidden behind closed doors, the exhibition will, hopefully, be open and inviting - much like the local people of Derry.”

Everyone is welcome to join Nuala at the launch of the exhibition on Saturday, November 9 (6.30pm-8.30pm) at The Playhouse.