A Modern Eye: Helen Hooker O'Malley's Ireland

Together with our partners, Gallery of Photography Ireland, the National Library of Ireland is delighted to launch a retrospective of Helen Hooker O’Malley - an American artist inspired by Ireland

Well-known Irish heritage sites including Croagh Patrick and Glendalough; scenes of daily life, from regattas in Mayo to summer days on the banks of Dublin’s Grand Canal; and portraits of Dublin’s creative communities, including musician Paddy Moloney and writer Mary Lavin: these are just some of the subjects found in the exhibition. This joint project between the Gallery of Photography Ireland and the National Library of Ireland’s National Photographic Archive, is launching on 20 June. The photographic retrospective of Helen Hooker O’Malley’s work and life is presented in two complementary exhibitions across the two adjacent venues.

Ireland was Hooker O’Malley’s most important source of inspiration for over half a century. Her decades-long love affair with the landscape, history and people of Ireland was ignited by her tumultuous relationship with revolutionary and author, Ernie O’Malley. Born in America, Hooker O’Malley’s perspective as an outsider looking in, one who had a fascination with Irish people and Irish life, offers us a unique portrait of modernity and tradition in 20th century Ireland, while including sculptural landscape and primitive forms as subjects. A multidisciplinary artist whose creative practice spanned painting, poetry, sculpture and interior design, Hooker O’Malley’s photography is predominantly modernist and social realist in style, documenting everyday life and elevating it to a subject worthy of appreciation in its own right.

Hooker O’Malley photographed her life in Ireland from 1935 onwards. The Gallery of Photography presents this early work – explorations made during expeditions with her husband into the Irish landscape, observations of Irish rural life particularly in County Mayo, and portraits of artists and friends – in addition to a fascinating record of her travels in Russia and East Asia. The National Library’s collection of Hooker O’Malley’s photographs primarily encompasses work produced by the artist during an intensely creative period in the 1970s. These photographs centre on the textures and details of landscapes and heritage sites; Dublin’s bustling urban life; and intimate portraits of close friends and strangers.

Speaking at the launch, Director of the NLI, Dr Sandra Collins, said: “Helen Hooker O’Malley’s fascination with Irish life shines out in these photographs. A notable and intriguing figure, she ought to be recognised as a strong and fiercely independent woman, one who travelled the world before settling in Ireland, and a talented artist working across a range of creative mediums. 

“We are delighted to work with our neighbours at the Gallery of Photography Ireland to present this joint exhibition about Hooker O’Malley, and to shed light on a complex woman and a dedicated artist. I would encourage people to visit both elements of this joint exhibition, and to see Ireland, its history, landscape, culture and people anew, from Hooker O’Malley’s unique perspective.”

Tanya Kiang, curator of the Gallery of Photography exhibition together with Trish Lambe remarked: “Gallery of Photography Ireland together with the National Library of Ireland recognise the importance of retrieving and preserving the work of female artists.  ‘A Modern Eye’ reveals for the first time the photographs of Helen Hooker O’Malley. The exhibition gives a unique insight into this modern woman’s creative vision of 20th century Ireland.”

Hooker O’Malley’s son, Cormac O’Malley, who was present at the launch, said: “I am delighted to see two important cultural institutions come together to showcase my mother’s life and career. This exhibition captures the cultural state of Ireland from 1935 to 1975, including its heritage and the commonplace aspects of real people – but through the eye of a modernist female lens where mood, structure and form all play an intricate role.”

‘A Modern Eye: Helen Hooker O’Malley’s Ireland’ opens to the public on 21st June 2019, and will run in the NLI’s National Photographic Archive, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar until 2nd November 2019; and in the Gallery of Photography until 1st September 2019. The exhibition is free to visit, and is open seven days weekly; see www.nli.ie and www.galleryofphotography.ie for venue opening hours.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication featuring over 120 photographs, and texts by Cormac K.H. O’Malley and Luke Gibbons.

Main Entrance, Kildare St.
Main Entrance, Kildare St.
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