ARTIST Brian McCarthy

Brian Self Portrait Photograph - Nua Collective - Artists

Work hard; play hard;
don’t let the buggers
grind you down.

Brian McCarthy (b. 1960) is an Irish artist based in Dublin. Working exclusively in oils, magical realism is a central theme of his work.

Although I was tempted to go into film while studying at art college, I’ve been obsessed with painting since I was a child. Even as a teenager, and supposedly studying for exams, I stayed up most nights until the early hours painting instead.

During the early 1980s, I briefly worked as a commercial illustrator while also selling and exhibiting. My big break came in 1981 when a painting sold at the Douglas Hyde Gallery’s Living Art Exhibition. Since then, my paintings have been included in numerous group shows at commercial galleries in Ireland and the UK, as well as the Royal Hibernian Academy’s annual exhibitions.

The biggest standout moment in my career so far has been my portrait of RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy getting shortlisted for the 2019 Zurich Portrait Prize and hung in the National Gallery of Ireland. It was also included in the RHA’s annual exhibition and due to be shown at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. However, the portrait arrived in Cork the same day Covid hit, so that didn’t happen. Still, it gave me a laugh to think of Joe cooped-up in a locked down gallery for months on end with no one to talk to.

Joe Duffy Portrait by Brian McCarthy 2018 - Nua Collective - Artist

Joe Duffy Portrait by Brian McCarthy 2018

As it happens, Joe has been an art student of mine and good friend for the past 15 years. He’s forever saying he has a great face for radio and one day I was in between paintings and decided prove him wrong. The end result was as much down to Joe as myself though. It was his idea to wear the hand painted cufflinks and distinctive tie with pin. Aside from being a joy to paint, it’s these kinds of gleaming details that can make all the difference to a portrait.

‘Dark Crossing’ – Brian McCarthy, Oil on Canvas, 2020

“An Irish artist based in Dublin, Brian McCarthy works exclusively in oils. Centering on magical realism, and infused with political satire, his work has been featured by many fine art auctioneers in Ireland, including Adam’s and Whyte’s, as well as being exhibited in some of Dublin’s main galleries, such as the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Douglas Hyde Gallery.”

– Hotpress Newsdesk

The other standout moment in my career is my Boomtown exhibition at the Keeling Gallery back in 2010 during the banking crisis. Due its satirical recession themed paintings depicting Dublin as a shanty town on the brink of revolution, and people fleeing in small crafts on treacherous seas, it received a lot of media attention. This resulted in the biggest sales I’ve ever had for a solo show. However, that was ten years ago and I haven’t had solo show since. But sure that’s how it goes in the art world – feast or famine.

At the same time, headshops were getting a lot of attention and it seemed to me there was far more madness outside the headshops, than in them. This evolved into a series of paintings reflecting on the Catholic Church scandals, water charges, and world cup football mania, as can be seen in my more recent paintings Oblivion and The Hat Trick Pub.

During the 1990s, I was fascinated with painting and collecting antique Venetian carnival masks. This resulted in my first equally successful solo exhibition Masquerade launched by Ireland’s former Taoiseach, the late Charles J. Haughey. For me masks are the ultimate still-life object to paint and they’re something I’ve returned to again and again over the years.

Ordinarily my favourite thing to do is socialise with friends at the weekends and try out new restaurants and pubs together, as well as visit old haunts. But these are not ordinary times and it seems a lifetime ago since we’ve done that. Meantime, lockdown has allowed me time to indulge my other passion – photography. The eeriness of Dublin’s empty streets at night is both surreal and magical, and I’m thoroughly enjoying wandering around the city trying to capture this on camera.

‘The Hat Trick Pub’ – Brian McCarthy, Oil on Canvas, 2020

‘Fitting the Propeller Dublin Port Graving Docks’, Brian McCarthy, 2019

Prior to Covid19, I was planning to exhibit my series of Dublin Port themed paintings, and in particular the graving dock on Alexandra Road. Built in circa 1910, and measuring a whopping 630 by 80 feet, this facility was the largest and last remaining working dry dock in the State.

During my visits there, I was gob-smacked by the contrast between men repairing huge ships like The Arklow Sand and the massive structures surrounding them. Sadly, it was closed shortly after I painted it, bringing to an end this era of our maritime heritage. While being forced to close my art school overnight due to Covid-19’s restrictions came as a real shock to the system, to say nothing of my finances, I have to say I’m loving the freedom of being able to focus exclusively on painting and photography for the first time in 35 years.

One of things that has always worked against me was the necessity to sell straight off the easel to private collectors. As a result, much of my best work has never been seen publicly.

But with exhibitions on hold until mid-2021 at the earliest, I’m looking forward to turning my photographs of lockdown Dublin at night into a series of paintings chronicling this period and accumulating enough to have another solo show when we’re back in the free world.

ARTWORKS BY Brian McCarthy

ARTIST’S Accolades


  • 1981 – Douglas Hyde Gallery’s Living Art Exhibition.
  • Commercial galleries in Ireland and the UK, as well as the Royal Hibernian Academy’s annual exhibitions.
  • Fine art auctioneers including Christie’s in London, and Adam’s and Whyte’s in Dublin
  • Paintings are currently held in numerous national and international private and corporate collections.
  • Solo exhibition – Boomtown
  • Masquerade exhibition launched by Ireland’s former Taoiseach, the late Charles J. Haughey.
  • Most recently, McCarthy was shortlisted for the 2019 Zurich Portrait Prize hosted by the National Gallery of Ireland for my portrait of RTÉ broadcaster Joe Duffy.


National College of Art & Design (NCAD)

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