© National Gallery of Ireland
Brian O'Doherty, Irish, b.1928
Title: Portrait of the Artist as a Naked Young Man
Date: 1953
Medium: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Purchased, the Artist, 2019
Object Number: NGI.2019.200
DescriptionBrian O’Doherty qualified as a medical doctor in Ireland before embarking in the late 1950s on a lengthy career as artist, critic, writer, filmmaker, and educator. During the 1960s, he became a pioneering conceptual artist in New York, and could include among his immediate circle such contemporaries as Sol Le Witt, Dan Graham, Eve Hesse and Robert Smithson. In the following decade, he established himself as a prominent proponent of installation art. An intellectual and instinctive theorist, O’Doherty has always been inclined towards producing art that addresses such concerns as aesthetic discourse, history, language, the self and art institutions. He has dealt regularly in his work with the role of the institution in the display, promotion and elevation of art.

Name Change (1972), O’Doherty’s first performance work, marked the artist’s adoption of a distinct artistic persona, Patrick Ireland. The artist retained this guise, a protest against the killing of civil rights marchers in Derry, until 2008, when he held a symbolic burial of an effigy of Patrick Ireland in the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. O’Doherty’s other alter egos include Mary Josephson, under which he contributed to Art in America.

He has maintained contact with Ireland since his emigration, and in 1977, with James Coleman, became one of the first Irish artists to be admitted to the Rosc exhibition.

The critical role of drawing in O’Doherty’s practice was embodied in the artist’s wall paintings and distinctive installations, called Rope Drawings. These latter works, which draw on architectural, musical, scientific and literary, as well as pictorial traditions, invite the viewer to enter into and participate in the artwork, and blur the lines between inside and outside.

O’Doherty has exhibited widely in the United States and Ireland, and is represented in permanent collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington; the Centre George Pompidou; Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane; and IMMA. O’Doherty continues to live and work in New York.

O’Doherty painted Portrait of the Artist as a Naked Young Man as a medical student, just two years before he left Europe to settle in the United States. The picture exemplifies a preoccupation with drawing that would endure through his career.
Despite O’Doherty’s relocation, Ireland continued to influence his art. As observed by his biographer Brenda Moore-McCann, O’Doherty’s mature work ‘was inflected by re-conceptualized elements from Irish culture like the linear Ogham script in use from the second/third century AD until the fifty/seventh century, and a labyrinth based on the pre-Christian St Bridget’s Cross’.

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