American artist causes a stir in Ireland with nude portraits of the elderly

American born artist Daniel Mark Duffy has been on the receiving end of a moral debate on modern Ireland. 

The artist’s provocative nude portraits have drawn both criticism and praise from all corners of Irish society.

The well-known writer and feminist Nell McCafferty was one of those that volunteered for the nude portrait project. 

"I thought it was lovely. We're naked as nature intended," she said.

Ireland’s Evening Herald has criticized the portrait of McCafferty and in the newspaper’s editorial they attacked her lack of modesty and the artist’s credibility. 

"She may be a national treasure, but we really don't need to see her in the buff," the Herald says.

Duffy defended his work and claimed that he was capturing a special moment in elderly life. He says that the portraits are an open and frank portrait of an aging body. Duffy painted primarily men and women over the age of 40.

"As we age our viability and visibility wanes. These are really intimate portraits. Once we put fear aside, there were just two human beings (painter and model) talking about their breasts, their stomach, their body changing.

"It is the patina and texture of a 99-year-old man's hands and feet or the definitive swollen belly of a 93-year-old woman that demands my consideration," he said.

The painting of Nell McCafferty fetched $14,960 at an auction and was bought by an Irish professor. The portrait currently resides in National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Duffy started the portrait project in 2007 and invited Irish models, politicians, artists and even victims of abuse to take part in the project.

"It is about all these wonderful stories that have been told in every inch of their flesh," the artist said.

Asked why he chooses to create the series of drawings in a traditionally conservative Catholic country, he said that the Irish "liked the idea of being the subject of a painting" and he hoped that he would extend the project into other countries next year.

Earlier this year caricatures of Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen appeared in the National Gallery of Ireland. As part of a prank the paintings portrayed a topless Cowen holding a roll of toilet roll. 

The painting was deemed shameful by a portion of the public and topless art was lambasted by many. 

Irish Times correspondent Fintan O'Toole said the storm brewed over a piece of art was shameful. 

"Let's get this straight. It is not indecent to award yourself six-figure bonuses for destroying the banking system,” O’Toole said. “But it is indecent to hang up paintings of a man naked from the waist up."


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