Bernadette Kiely
Contemporary Irish Artist, Member of Aosdana: Biography, Paintings, Exhibitions, Collections.

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For a list, see: Best Irish Artists.

Bernadette Kiely (b.1958)
Irish Landscape Painter

If Leo Tolstoy had used paint instead of words to express his feelings for the earth and soil to which he was so attached, I feel sure he would have produced works similar to those of Bernadette Kiely. Her extraordinary imagery of the close-up world of gorse, mud, mould and other natural phenomena, has an unmistakable Tolstoyan air about it - like you're knee-deep in a bog, with only wind and rain for company. The Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) once remarked to a friend that when he stood in front of a landscape painting by the great John Constable (1776-1837), it made him "call for my greatcoat and umbrella"; Kiely's work has a similar effect, which is why she is such an exceptional Irish landscape artist. (See also Top Contemporary Artists.)

Elected a member of the prestigious artist-group Aosdána in 2007, she has shown her works at numerous exhibitions in Denmark, Britain, USA, as well as Ireland. Her paintings are represented in many public and private collections of art, including: AIB, PMPA, An Bord Gais, Mayo General Hospital, University Hospital Cork, University of Limerick, the George Moore Society, Butler Gallery, Garter Lane Art Centre, Ballinglen Arts Foundation, Office of Public Works (OPW), the National Self Portrait Collection, University of Limerick, and A & L Goodbody, London. (Note: For other modern artists based in Ireland, see: Contemporary Irish Artists.)


For late 20th century artworks,
see: Contemporary Art.


Born in Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, Kiely began painting as a child, encouraged by the family's interest in art - her mother and father both sketched, and her brother became an animator who now works for Steven Spielberg in Los Angeles, California. She took a degree in graphic design at the Waterford School of Art, after which she spent two years working in New York and London in graphic design and architecture.

Returning to Ireland in 1984, she became the first administrator for the Butler Gallery, and a year later took up painting full-time. She works in a studio built by the Irish abstract expressionist artist Barrie Cooke (b.1931) - one of her most important influences - in a disused handball alley in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny.

Artistic Methods and Materials

A chronicler of the Irish landscape, particularly the rivers and coastal areas of the south of Ireland, as well as the North Mayo countryside, Kiely specialises in semi-abstract thick impasto style oil painting, as well as mixed media drawing with charcoal, pencil, water, clay sticks, and chalks.


An avid photographer, she uses her camera to catalogue changes and movements in the landscape under differing changes of light and atmospheric conditions - fog, cloud, darkness and so on. These photos are the starting point for her studio paintings. But when it comes to her drawings - of rivers in flood, fields in winter, trees in winter, unusual markings in the landscape, dying or budding foliage and litchen, etc. - she draws in the open air entirely from life: either sitting on ditches, leaning against banks or, if the view is good and the weather bad, from the driver's seat of her car. It is this sort of detailed, in situ, scientific-type plein air study, which - not unlike her renowned predecessors such as John Constable - underpins both her creativity and her relationship (and respect) for her subject.

And like Constable, Kiely too has a sense of not wanting to be anywhere else. As she says: "The thought processes and the physicality involved in making a painting is an amazing activity that is second to none... I feel privileged to be able to do it."


Inspired by the drawings of Rembrandt (1606-69) and Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), as well as the work of Gustave Courbet (1819-77), Camille Corot (1796-1875), Van Gogh (1853-90), the solitary American painter Pinkham Ryder (1847-1919), the German Neo-Expressionist Anselm Kiefer (b.1945), and the imaginative Irish painter Camille Souter (b.1929), Kiely's works are complex and challenging compositions. Indeed, some critics find themselves unable to describe them without using the sort of multi-syllabic words that send me scurrying for a dictionary!

Personally, I see them as slides of nature, seen through Kiely's personal microscope: often close-up, occasionally distant. The sort of painting Mark Rothko might have attempted if he'd spent more time in the fresh air. Above all, Kiely strains to convey some of the depth, and sensuality of differing atmospheric conditions in small, unpretentious aspects of the landscape and the melancholy attached to their passing.

If you want more, you'll have to see and assess her paintings for yourself, at Taylor Galleries (Dublin) or Catherine Hammond Gallery, Glengarriff, Co Cork. All I can say, is that they're well worth the effort!

Selected Solo Exhibitions

Over the past 15 years, Kiely has had numerous solo exhibitions - notably her "Slow Time, Local Ground" show** - in Ireland and abroad. Venues have included: the Butler Gallery (1994); Limerick City Art Gallery (1994); Crawford Gallery, Cork (1994); Sligo Art Gallery (1995); the Hallward Gallery, Dublin (1995); County Hall Gallery, Kilkenny (1997); Taylor Galleries, Dublin (1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007); Kilkenny Arts Festival (1999); Skive Kunstmuseum, Denmark (1999); Claremorris Art Gallery (2001, 2008); Catherine Hammond Gallery, Glengarriff, Co. Cork (2004, 2007); The Millennium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, Co. Armagh (2004); Model Arts & Niland Gallery, Sligo (2004); The Clinton Centre, Enniskillen (2006); Donegal Airport, Co. Donegal (2006).

**The catalogue for 'Slow Time, Local Ground' was produced by The Millennium Court Arts Centre (Portadown), The Model Arts & Niland Gallery (Sligo) and The Butler Gallery, and is still available.

Selected Group Exhibitions

In addition to a joint exhibition with Brian Bourke at the Galway Art Centre (1995), Kiely has participated in a wide number of group art exhibitions, including the Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Show. Venues have included: Galway Art Centre; Butler Gallery, Kilkenny; Archeus Fine Art, London; Rubicon Gallery, Dublin; West Wales Art Centre, Fishguard; Sligo Art Gallery; Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast; Crawford Gallery, Cork; Fenton Gallery, Cork; Lismore Art Centre, Co. Waterford; John Martin Fine Art, London.

In March 2009, Bernadette Kiely will be participating in a show of eight Irish artists in New York, USA.


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