Lisa O’Donnell is a painter that uses feminist and revisionist methodologies, to interpret and expand ground-breaking 20th-century Irish women’s histories. Her work investigates how contemporary figurative painting strategies can expand marginalised and ignored women’s histories and the project will examine how the acknowledgement of subjectivity in both painting and history can act to enable new methods and strategies in both disciplines. Her work reconsiders and transforms material collected from numerous sources including dedicated archives, written biographies, documentaries and photographic source material.

She is currently undertaking a pratice led PhD at the Royal College of Art. The project’s overarching question asks; how can the performative strategies and the representational language of painting be used as a tool to revise history by examining and repositioning particular women’s stories? It aims to articulate and develop the notion of contemporary history painting proposed by several contemporary painters, dealing with ignored and marginalised histories, as painter Lubaina Himid says of this history, ‘you have to know it’s there, because you cannot see it’ (Himid, 2003). The fact that the histories are not ‘visible’ allows a space for painting to invent and expand both visually and conceptually, and hence, as the research proposes, becomes the ideal vehicle to explore it.

A further research question considers; in relation to perception and subjectivity, is the act of creating and experiencing figurative painting and the act of creating and consuming history aligned and do they utilise comparable methodologies and strategies? By drawing on the narrative potential of both painting and history the project chimes with Hayden White’s statement which, rather than seeing subjectivity as a problem, rather posits that ‘narrative might well be considered a solution to a problem of general human concern, namely, the problem of how to translate knowing into telling’ (White, 1980).

She has previously made work based on the archives of The Irish in Britain at London Metropolitan University, the archives of the House of Saint Barnabas (house at Westminster archives), The Irish Echo newspaper, New York, The Irish Post newspaper, London, New York University – Ireland House, The American Irish Historical Society, Kilmainham Gaol Museum and The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University. The process of going to the physical archives and having access to select from an unedited collection of imagery is a central part of her practice as she wants to investigate what comes closest to the original source.

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