Visual Arts

Stephen McKenna

Born in London in 1939, Stephen McKenna studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. He moved to Donegal in 1973, and also lived in Germany, Belgium and Italy. He was guest professor for painting at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Braunschweig, in 1995-96, and was elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2001.

He curated the “Pursuit of Painting” exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1997. His paintings demonstrate a classical approach to still lifes, landscapes and interior settings, which hint at larger narrative themes. A survey of his work from the nineties took place at the Hans und Sophie Tauber Arp Foundation, Bonn, Germany in 2000.

He exhibited work regularly at the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin. Other solo exhibitions include Museum of Modern Art Oxford (1983), Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (1984), Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1986), Ca di Fra, Milan (1999), Reeds Wharf Gallery, London (1996, 95), Edward Totah Gallery, London (1986, 85), Galleria Seno, Milan (1986), Sander Gallery, New York (1985), Barry Barker, London (1979),Mestna Galerija, Ljubljiana (1997), Orchard Gallery, Derry (1996, 88, 81). His paintings have appeared in numerous group exhibitions in Ireland, Europe and the USA.

Statement by the Toscaireacht on the passing of Stephen McKenna

The death of our Aosdána colleague Stephen McKenna removes from Ireland’s cultural history not just one of our finest painters but a profound intellectual force. Stephen, who lived and worked for much of his life in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, was deeply knowledgeable of art and aesthetics, particularly of ancient Greece and Rome, and throughout his career he endeavoured to bring that knowledge to bear on painting the most beautiful landscapes, seascapes (especially of Co. Donegal), still lifes, and interiors. His range was immense and his sense of colour and composition brilliantly exciting. As a person he was thoughtful, witty, modest but a brilliant speaker when he needed to be, for instance in proposing an artist he valued for election to Aosdána. His death cannot, however, remove his work from Ireland’s history. He survives there. We in Aosdána shall miss him greatly. We extend our condolences to Stephen’s wife, Bethan, his son Seán and his family.

5 May 2017

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