Steven Mannion Farrell is one of the fastest rising stars of Irish art world. He has already enjoyed considerable commercial success and his artworks are starting to appear in some of the most enviable private collections in the world. It’s easy to see why. His paintings and drawings are, quite simply, breathtaking.
It’s impossible to define his style. Steven describes it as “abstract” and “minimal”, but it’s changed over the years and continues to change with each collection. His paintings are bright and colourful, not dark. Although his style and technique may have changed, as he has grown as an artist, his gaze is uniquely and identifiable his.
His artistic heroes include Paul Henry, Picasso and German artist, Gerhard Richter, one of the pioneers of the New European Painting that emerged after WWII. His favourite painting The Taking of Christ, by Caravaggio, dates from an earlier time and he loves this work because “there are so many layers to it.” One of his first influences was Irish artist, Jim Fitzpatrick. He still loves Fitzpatrick’s work and has the pleasure of living with an original by the artist, a portrait of one of his sisters-in-law.
Although Steven is already an accomplished artist, he continues to take classes, when he has the time, because they “motivate” him. “There’s never a point when it’s too late to learn something new,” he says, “the need to grow as an artist is always important to me.” He likes to push forward and experiment with different themes, which does not always thrill the galleries and agents that he works with. Their need to categorise his work is thwarted by his “to strike a balance between commercial success and artistic expression.”
Research plays an important part in his artistic process, as it both informs and inspires him. When he is preparing for a collection he immerses himself fully in the subject of his work. For example, when he was preparing for the Land of Heart’s Desire exhibition, which is based on the life and works of WB Yeats, he spent a lot of time in Sligo, observing the land and skies that influenced the poet, visiting his haunts, reading his poems and stories and studying his life. He could also be found at the William Butler Yeats permanent exhibition at the National Library of Ireland, reading and researching.
The results are extraordinary. The paintings capture the poet and his places in an almost mystical way. If you are already a lover of Yeats, Steven’s paintings will add a new dimension to your understanding of his work. If you know nothing about him they will open a door to his world.
In person, Steven is as far away from the stereotypical image of angst ridden artist as you can get. He exudes good health and happiness and he laughs all the time. He does not find artistic life lonely – he likes getting stuck into the work. He maintains a good work/life balance and is happily married to Eamon Farrell, who is a director at the National College of the Performing Arts. They have a great home and social life and live with three dogs who spend their days in the studio with him. He does not work regular hours but he makes sure that he is in his studio, which is based at their home in Sandymount, every day. The work flows from there.
Steven likes to get involved with projects, other than his art. His passion for Yeats led to a position on the board of the Yeats 150 festival. He enjoyed that role, “taking Yeats out of the academic and into the real world.” He believes that the arts have a crucial role to play in society as they “add to the culture.” He says, “In Ireland we’re doing well but still have a way to go. Yes, it is the duty of society to fund the arts, but “not at the expense of other priorities such as homelessness.” He regrets that there is no history of art patronage here but is hopeful that will change. He knows that he is lucky; he had lots of support for his need to create when he was growing up. His mum, who he clearly adores, made sure that he always had the art supplies and the encouragement that he needed to develop his craft.
Steven attributes some element of his success to luck. His first significant sale happened when his work was seen and purchased by a couple, with a passion for art, at Art Ireland 2007. Selling that work and seeing it hang on the walls of its new home made him feel like a professional artist, for the first time. His work and success have gathered momentum since.
That is why he is very excited to be part of the Ringsend Arts Festival. He explains “It is incredibly important for local artists to show their work to the world. That’s really important. If it sells even one artist, it is worth it.”