Orla Kelly is pictured with one of her textile creations, called “Reach”

Moate artist is tipped as “one to watch” in 2022

A Westmeath artist has been tipped as one of the top young talents to watch out for in Ireland in 2022.

22-year old Orla Kelly, from Moate who graduated from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) last year, spoke of her delight this week at making it onto the prestigious Irish Times list of the Top 50 young talents to watch out for in 2022.

The only daughter and youngest of Oonagh and Michéal Kelly’s three children, from Clonthread, Moate, Orla admits that she was “steeped in art” throughout her young life as her mum is a well-known art teacher in Athlone’s Our Lady's Bower secondary school and doyenne of the annual Junk Kouture competition.

Orla with her parents Oonagh and Michéal

“I suppose you could say I grew up with art all around me,” says the young graduate, who specialised in textiles at NCAD, but likes to describe herself as “a multi-disciplinary artist” and is interested in exploring all aspects of her talent.

Orla came to the attention of the Irish Times when her textile work was selected for the 2021 RDS Visual Art Awards in the Royal Hibernian Academy from November 25 to December 19 last.

The brochure for the exhibition described Orla Kelly’s work as a collection of brightly coloured rugs which take the shape of the human body. “While they appear cheerful and inviting at first, a closer look reveals menacing scenes of sexual assault. She deals with the normalisation of violence against women in popular culture.”

Orla says her thought-provoking work was “very well received” by everyone who viewed it, and she was both “surprised and delighted” when she got a call from the Irish Times to inform her that she was to be included in their Top 50 list for 2022.

The work of 10 recent art graduates was selected for the RDS Visual Arts Awards, and Orla Kelly’s work was the only one to make it onto the Irish Times list.

In the Irish Times, Orla Kelly described her mother, Oonagh, as being “a huge inspiration” as she was her art teacher in secondary school, and she also said she regards herself as being “lucky to grow up in a creative family.”

She says her dad, Michéal, who is an engineer, has often been “roped in” to build various sets and structures so that she can exhibit her work, and she described her parents as “incredibly supportive.”

Although she always loved drawing as a child, Orla Kelly says she initially thought about following in the footsteps of her mother and pursuing a career in teaching. “I always loved art and I suppose I just assumed that my only route into a career in art would be through teaching,” she admits.

However, having explored all options, she applied to the NCAD and assembled a portfolio throughout her final two years in secondary school. “The brief for the portfolio was very specific and the main aim of it was to showcase a range of different art styles, but I was lucky enough to get accepted on the basis of my portfolio.”

Even though her parents are “well aware” of the precarious nature of life as an artist, Orla says they encouraged her “every step of the way” while she was in art college, and continue to do so today, as do her two older brothers, Ciarán and Eoghan.

Now living in Dublin and working part-time in a vintage shop, the young Moate art graduate has recently acquired a studio space in an area known as Block T, beside Guinness Storehouse.

Block T consists of 25 individual studio spaces for 44 artists, designers, freelancers and other cultural independents to avail of, and Orla Kelly describes it as “an ideal space” for her to be based.

“I am really looking forward to getting settled in there and concentrating on creating new work this year,” she says. Among her 2022 plans are a fashion project with fellow NCAD graduate, designer Adam Farrell, and a series of images of people interacting with her work, with photographer Cian Redmond.

Her hope is that in five to ten years she will be able to make a living on a full-time basis from her art, and she would also like to travel and become involved in a few arts residencies abroad to further hone her skills.

Having lived for a year as an art student in the Dutch city of Arnhem, which she says has a “very vibrant and thriving artistic community” she is hoping to return there at some point, and she would also like to see more State supports being provided to those working in the arts.

The devastating impact of Covid on the overall arts sector has also been acutely felt by visual artists like Orla Kelly, but she is hopeful that this will help to “shine a light” on the plight of those working in the arts, and may result in more State supports.

“I think there will be changes for the better in the next few years, but in the meantime I will continue to work hard,” she vows.