Micky Donnelly (1952 – 2019)
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has learned with great sadness of the death of the acclaimed Belfast artist, Micky Donnelly.
Micky Donnelly was born in Belfast in 1952 and educated at the Christian Brothers Grammar School in west Belfast, before going on to study Mathematics and Computer Science at Queen’s University. After a period working as a social worker in west Belfast, he enrolled at the University of Ulster School of Art and Design, receiving a BA (1979) and an MA (1981) in Fine Art.
In the early 1980s Micky Donnelly was heavily involved in the Artists Collective and Queen Street Studios, and was a founder member of Circa magazine of contemporary art. He was exhibiting large-scale paintings and drawings at the Orchard Gallery in Derry City and was one of the first artists to exhibit at the newly-opened Fenderesky Gallery in Belfast. With interest growing from abroad in Northern Ireland’s visual arts, Donnelly was invited to participate in a series of large group exhibitions by Northern Irish artists which toured to England, Germany, USA and Canada.
In 1985 he was awarded an Arts Council of Northern Ireland Scholarship to the British School at Rome, an event which the artist has acknowledged as a turning point in his work. Italian Renaissance art became a major influence on how he used his painting to critique Irish culture and politics. The ‘Belfast Series’ of the early 1990s, with their street references and allusions to Belfast murals, show the influence of Italian fresco painting. By the end of the decade, the deliberate interpretive ambiguity he had always built into his work had developed into the ‘Reflex Series’, based on Rorschach inkblot tests, asking viewers to interpret his work from their own psychological viewpoints. The work would become still more poetic and opaque in the ‘Proposition Series’ of diptychs, which emerged around 2008.
In 1996 Micky Donnelly’s contribution to the arts was acknowledged when he was elected a member of Aosdána, one of the most prestigious positions in Irish arts. He exhibited nationally and internationally and his work is included in public and private collections throughout the world, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Ulster Museum, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Collection, and the European Parliament.
Suzanne Lyle, Head of Visual Arts at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, paid tribute:
“Micky Donnelly was a key figure in the development of the contemporary visual arts scene here in the 1980s and 1990s, and one of the major artists responsible for putting Northern Ireland’s visual arts on the international map. The body of work he leaves behind will ensure his lasting place amongst the front rank of Northern Irish painters.”