What lies beneath: Shane Berkery

Niall MacMonagle, The Sunday Independent, July 6, 2015

What's shocking? In 1995 the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was photographed fully clothed holding, releasing and dropping a 2,000-year-old Han Dynasty Urn: a triptych self-portrait. At this year's NCAD Graduate Show, Shane Berkery included his self-portrait, this time a nude. Nothing odd there. Art colleges are cutting edge. But next to it, forming a diptych, stood a life-size nude portrait of the NCAD Director and suddenly the whole thing became a storm in a tea mug. College authorities asked Berkery to decide whether the painting should go on show. Feeling the pressure, he decided that it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Removed before anyone, including the press, got to see it, the attempt still meant that the other students lost out too. The media, when they did catch up, focused on a two-naked-men painting and not on the range and talents of all of this year's graduates. Berkery, to his and the college's credit, did earn First Class Honours but his argument, all the while, was that he was unhappy with the way the place was being run. Placing himself beside an eminent figure, both stripped bare, suggests that, without "robes and furred gowns", there isn't much between us.

Born in Tokyo, 1992, Shane Berkery shored up in Dublin - Irish father, Japanese mother - when he was 14. College was either science or art but art won out and Berkery is now certainly creating a worthwhile stir.

Recent work was inspired by black and white photographs of his grandparents.

Wilhelm Sasnal and Magnus Plessen are important influences and "Francis Bacon, of course".

In Green and Pink his grandmother, in traditional cherry-blossom-pink kimono, is seated at a low table. Berkery didn't aim for photo realism but "wanted to place the viewer in a strange and nostalgic intermediate space between oriental and western memories".

This intense, mysterious presence, this calm, gracious, compact figure in her early twenties, against that brilliantly executed interior, looks at us across the decades, unruffled by any hoo-hah surrounding her grandson and whether he's got his kit on. Or not.