‘City girl’ turns real life farmscapes into artistic portraits

Artist Una O’Grady may have grown up in Belfast city; but, relocating to a quaint farm on the Waterford/Kilkenny/Tipperary border inspired her to capture the scenes on her doorstep.

These range from calves, to old tractors, to the local sales at Carrick-on-Suir mart.

Although Una previously regarded herself as a “total city girl“, her mother’s Derry farming background was a big influence.

“Every Sunday we were brought down to the family farm in Swartragh, Co. Derry, and we still visit it. I have great childhood memories of playing through fields there with cousins; then arriving in to my granny’s fresh griddle made scones with melted butter and sugar,” she said.

After meeting her partner, John, while living in Australia, the couple decided to return home to his family farm in Co. Waterford. With that, her large scale oil paintings – which previously focused on north Belfast – began to reflect what she was looking at through the hedges.

With two young daughters, painting at the family farm – where the couple are also building a house – offers Una an enjoyable lifestyle.

“After studying fine art at the University of Ulster I did teacher training in art; but, I always wanted to concentrate on my own work.

“On the school bus I was always pulling out canvases, painting calves, dogs and even some donkeys,” she said.

These are interspersed with works depicting summers spent amid the rugged landscape of Donegal and the Belfast cityscape.

I try to capture the energy and texture of Donegal and endeavour to make it look effortless. Then there is the contrast with the shipyard of Belfast, capturing its activity and vibrant colour. Different subject matter keeps me challenged, and I hope, maintains a freshness in my work.

Una uses her fingers and a palette knife to scrape, dig out, layer, plaster on and scrape off the paint when creating her works – which have been praised for being full of movement and immediacy.

“I paint every single day. I feel something is missing if I don’t get some time to paint; even if it’s just an hour. It’s like staying fit, if you lose that fitness level, it’s a big effort to get it back,” she said.

“It’s hard work, there is no doubt about it. It takes a lot of drive to keep going. At the moment I’m working outside a bit, wrapped up in Ugg boots and triple fleeces. The quality of light makes it worth the effort.

The artist sells her work through galleries in Northern Ireland and online; she attracts a lot of repeat business.

She has had numerous successful solo shows; her work is also featured in many collections including: UTV archives; Queen’s University Belfast; the BBC Public Archive Collection and Northern Bank.

She has concentrated on original works to date; however, some limited edition prints will be available in the coming days.

“At some stage, I might take a stall at the National Ploughing Championships or the Balmoral Show,” she said.

As an artist, she enjoys the tranquility of working on a farm.

“It can be a bit isolating; you have to be adaptable. But in terms of being an artist, it suits me. I don’t have any distractions. It’s fantastic to be able to take my time and observe the livestock.

I love trying to catch the animals’ characters. We had a few bucket-fed calves and it was interesting to experience their different personalities.

Find out more about the artist at Una O’Grady Paintings on Facebook; Una is also contactable by email on [email protected]