IMMA – Irish Museum of Modern Art

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The Relationship between Artist and Model, A blog by renowned American painter Ellen Altfest.

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Ellen Altfest in studio. Photograph by Vincent Dillio.

Looking at the return to figuration in contemporary art practice, Altfest is one of several artists invited to respond on the affinities, methodologies and potential influences that contemporary artists continue to share with Freud. In conjunction with Altfest’s memorable Artist’s Talk at IMMA in June, we invite the artist to write a blog on her distinctive approach to working with life models, the rhythms and intensity of studio life and reflect on the interchanges between desire and detachment, in striking a balanced when working with her subjects.

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I was invited by IMMA to respond to their exhibition, As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics, and to work with Alice Butler and Daniel Fitzpatrick of AEMI to develop a screening for the IFI in conjunction with IMMA’s Talks and Public Programmes. The resulting programme – Out of Body – features films by Maya Deren, Mairéad McClean, Jordan Baseman, Paul Sharits, and John Smith, alongside a selection of my own work. These films consider the psychic and physical spaces of body and landscape; they explore automatic, subliminal and unconscious states of mind. Multiple viewpoints, strobing, and repetition draw attention to our perceptual senses, and to the very act of looking, and of being observed.  Out of Body took place at the IFI on Tuesday 25 July 2017 and you can listen back to the introduction and discussion here.

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Studio 10 Adult Programme at IMMA

studio 10 blog photo

Studio 10 at IMMA

If you’ve ever wanted to experience something more creatively hands-on in relation to IMMA’s exciting programme of changing exhibitions, there are several programmes that use exploratory art-making to give you a richer understanding of the artworks and exhibitions on show in the galleries. Developed and run by IMMA’s Engagement and Learning  department (previously called ‘Education and Community’) these programmes are facilitated both by invited artists and art practitioners and our in-house facilitators from IMMA’s Visitor Engagement Team. These art-making activities focus on creative process and experimentation and are incorporated into a whole range of programming that caters for families, children, teenagers, third level groups, and adults.

For this blog we spoke to Caroline Orr (Engagement and Learning) and Joan Walker (Visitor Engagement Team) to hear more about one of the longest running of these programmes – “Studio 10” . This art-making workshop series takes place in three or four week blocks on Friday mornings, 10am to 1pm, in an autumn/winter and spring/summer schedule.  Each block focuses on a single current exhibition and explores the themes and techniques used in the making of the artworks presented in the galleries.  This involves several visits and tours to the gallery spaces, and lots of discussion, which then leads to a practical session of making in the studio. Officially called the Adult Gallery/Studio Programme it has become known as “Studio 10” – the number of the IMMA studio in which the art-making takes place. “Studio10” is free of charge and you don’t need to book in advance, you can just drop along on the day. For more information about the current dates and topics please see our website

To give you a better idea of what the workshops feel like, we’ve taken a closer look at a recent project developed by the group.  In November 2016 Studio 10 was exploring the work of Jaki Irvine’s new work: If the Ground Should Open.” which was on exhibition in the Courtyard Galleries. An IMMA Commission, the work is a multichannel video and sound installation commemorating the often forgotten role women played in the 1916 Easter Rising. Using themes from this work such as commemoration and the role of memory Visitor Engagement Facilitators Barry Kehoe and Joan Walker devised a specific workshop for Studio 10 participants to make their own collaborative video work. Joan describes how the idea came about and how the film was made:

Joan tells us more:

The idea for this workshop began by honing down the Jaki Irvine piece to its essential core, which is to honour the name of a remembered person. In her case it was the memory of the women who played important roles in the 1916 Rising. To say a person’s name can be powerful, even in general conversation. It makes us pay attention, it’s grounding and it makes us feel recognised.

When Barry and I took this idea to the Studio 10 group our first step was to ask the group to think about someone who had meaning for us; perhaps someone we loved, honoured or respected. This could be someone from the past or the present, someone known intimately or even someone we had never met. We sat quietly with our memories, letting them flow to the surface and allowing the chosen person’s name to fill our heads, fill our mouths with its vibrations and then to whisper and speak out that name and indulge in its vowels and rhythms. The next step was to take a pencil to paper and begin to write the name and then to progress this further by doodling with the name, playing with it, decorating it, growing it on paper. We spoke about illuminated texts where initials are glorified in gold and jewel like colours or the bright primaries of pop culture and writing the name like a popstar or in love hearts like sweethearts, the type carved in trees or graffiti on to bathroom doors.

Soon there was spontaneous writing, drawing or collaging. There was complete silence in the studio, the concentration was immense as everyone, locked in their thoughts, began a visual memorial to their chosen name.

At our next session the following week we introduced a selection of percussion instruments, to pick up from the music at the centre of Irvine’s work. We gathered in a circle and began to improvise with sound. In their own time each person allowed their special person to come forward in their mind and let it flow to their hands and their instruments so they could honour that name in sound. Immediately some people began to sing, hum or shout out their chosen name. The Studio filled with wonderful sound and the cacophony was all the time being recorded on a mobile recording desk.

Following this it was time to record the actual speaking of the chosen name. During the recording process many participants recounted cherished memories of their person. Neither Barry nor I could have anticipated the outpouring of honesty, emotion and rich tales that would go on to weave this wonderful tapestry of sound and vision.

The next and final stage was to photograph the drawings which were combined with the recordings to produce this truly heartfelt memorable piece of art.

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Behind the Blink – Go behind the scenes with the IMMA Collection: Freud Project Advertising Campaign

IMMA Collection: Freud Project is a landmark exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art around one of the greatest realist painters of the 20th century, Lucian Freud (1922-2011). The current exhibition features a selection of 30 of the artist’s finest paintings and 20 works on paper.

To celebrate this extraordinary exhibition we asked Dublin-based advertising agency Irish International BBDO to created a 20 second advertisement for television, cinema, display, digital and social media that would capture the feeling of seeing a Freud work in the flesh. We absolutely loved the result, and hope you do to! Everything you see below was achieved in camera with NO special effects or computer generated imagery – this is a model sitting very, very still with her face brilliantly painted…with an eye-opening twist.  Don’t believe us? Read on to watch a time-lapse of the whole process.

Original 20″ Advert:

II BBDO Creative Director Dylan Cotter, who nicknamed the ad ‘facetime’, explains the concept:

The difference between looking at Freud’s portraits on a screen or in a book or catalogue, versus seeing them ‘in the flesh’ – is profound. Rachel and myself visited the exhibition in December and our reactions differed in many respects, but we both felt that. Part of it was the physics of the paint, the depth of it. And part of it was just spending time. For me, it was only after a little while of staring and exploring, that I noticed how in every portrait the eyes were these points of quite fierce stability amongst all these swirls and eddies of withering, weathering flesh.

We wanted to capture that in our ad.

Quite literally invoking people to see this work ‘in the flesh’; but also making that point on a more emotive and less literal level.

At the exhibition we read a quote from Freud, next to Man in a check cap: “As far as I’m concerned, the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does.”

This sparked a thought with Rachel, to play with that relationship between the paint and the painted.

We were incredibly lucky to find a make-up artist here in Dublin – Caitríona Giblin – who is as good as anyone, anywhere, at achieving the effect we were after.

Behind-the-Scenes Timelapse:

We are very proud of the fact that the finished work was completely achieved in camera. One take, no cheats or fixes or embellishments, no CGI tricks. This is a real model with a painted face, standing in front of a painted backdrop (also by Caitríona), and opening her eyes.

It’s a simple and hopefully resonant comment on Freud’s ability to truly connect the viewer of the portrait with the subject of the portrait, in a startling and transcendent way. Go to the exhibition and you’ll see what we mean!

Like any piece of creative work, experimentation was an important part in the making of this ad. While the general concept and story had been planned before the final shoot took place, the team saw an opportunity to play with the idea and expand it further. The result is a series of videos where one is more playful and cheeky than the last.

Playful and dramatic:

Freud painted from life, and usually spend a great deal of time with each subject, demanding the model’s presence even while working on the background of the portrait. His portraits depict people he was close to; friends, family, lovers, and the like as he wished to capture his subjects alongside his interactions with them, stating:

The subject matter is autobiographical, it’s all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement, really..

His subjects usually recall having to devote enormous amounts of their time for an uncertain period of commitment.  Freud’s portraits could take weeks or even months to complete and required extensive dedication and focus from his subjects which sometimes led to emotional and physical discomfort. Perhaps the following take is the result of a similar experience felt by the production team (we hope not!):

Our model had excellent control over her eyebrow muscles. We were impressed:

Kiss, kiss. Wink wink.

While the production team had a lot of fun directing these different takes during filming the restrained drama of the model’s first take was ultimately the most fitting and striking moment captured on the day. Her subtle movement beautifully translates the connection a viewer can feel when standing in front of one of Lucian Freud’s portraits.

We wish to extend our sincerest gratitude to the team at Irish International BBDO  and and all the individuals who donated their time and expertise to this campaign.

Creative Director: Dylan Cotter
Art Director: Rachel Foley
Producer and Editor: Georgia Stevenson
Post Production: Lee Miller
Account Manager: Lorna Begg
DOP: Martin Osborne
Makeup Artist: Caitríona Giblin
Model: Deirdre J Lynam
Kevin Breathnach (Avondale Studio)

IMMA Collection: Freud Project is now open. Tickets are available online and advanced booking in strongly recommended. Find out more here and book tickets here.