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My Life in Culture: Artist Orla Walsh
Image / Living / Culture

Pic Steve Humphreys 4th April 2018

My Life in Culture: Artist Orla Walsh


by Sarah Finnan
18th May 2024

Orla Walsh is an Irish artist who has come to be known for her graphic paintings, first discovered on the railings of St. Stephen’s Green where she was selling her adventurous creations. Inspired by bright and bold colours, stand-out text and iconic branding/products, she’s caught the eye of some very influential people over the years and her work is even displayed in the Heinz HG in Pittsburgh. Her first pop-up shop is open in Powerscourt Centre until May 25.

The last thing I saw and loved… I had a launch for my first-ever pop-up show in Powerscourt earlier this month and my little baby niece who is just a year old arrived with her mum. She outstretched her little arms to me and gave me the most beautiful warm hug that made my heart swell.

The book I keep coming back to… a set of art encyclopaedias that my parents bought me when I was 12 years old. It was long before the internet and mobile phones and you had to get a book out of the library if you needed to find something out. They were all I had at the time and I still have 10 of them in my studio. I love to flick through the pages for inspiration.

I find inspiration in… other people’s stories, memories and keepsakes. Recently I met a lady who has kept an old Siucra Packet and the brown paper bag that Bewleys used to sell their tea cakes in during the 1970s. Another person sent me images of the the old baby blue and pink Lux detergent box and I can’t wait to paint them all.

My favourite film is… I am a Christmas person through and through, so, Elf, Die Hard and Miracle on 34th Street are up there for me as the best feel-good movies of all time.

My career highlight is… another Christmas story. It was around 2013 and I flew to London to see the Christmas windows in BHS Home Store in Oxford Street and they were full of my ‘I love Ketchup’ merchandise. It was a mind-blowing experience.

The song I listen to to get in the zone is… I am always saying to my girls that I love music that sounds like butter – smooth and soft – and they laugh at me. I love Doris Day, Henry Mancini, Jimmy Durante.

The last film I recommended is… the movie Blackberry. My family are big cinema goers. We like to go weekly so there is never a big choice and sometimes we see some really terrible movies. But Blackberry was brilliant. It’s about the rise and fall of the first mobile phone. I had no expectations and it was sharp, funny, dramatic and witty.

I never leave the house without… my mobile phone. The only thing it does not do is start my car! I make all my calls from my hands-free. I love Audible and I listen to my book club books. I have Spotify for my podcasts and music.

The piece of work I still think about is… I was around 10 years old and I entered an art competition. I decided to build a Christmas room out of a cardboard box. I cut away the top and side of the box. I got my dad to find me a piece of carpet. I painted the walls and built a fireplace, made paper stockings and used cotton wool for the top of them. The Christmas tree was made out of a toilet roll and a painted cylinder. My poor mum had to try and find me some glitter and in the 1980s, it was hard to come by! I made paper ring decorations and criss-crossed them over the top of the box to look like they went across the top of the room. The rocking chair was made out of wooden pegs from the washing line. When the room was finished, it went on display in the school and all the little presents I made for under the tree were stolen, but I won joined 1st prize!

My dream commission (brand or person!) would be… there are multiple dream clients I would love to work with but I do love to choose my own images and products that resonate and connect with me, that have a story or a nostalgic feeling. I love old-brand packaging. I feel that ordinary things become extraordinary when you paint them.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten… was from my husband. When we were first married, I was working in a graphic design agency which I loved. I really wanted to paint but did not have the nerve to do so. When I got pregnant with our first child, he asked me why don’t I go for it and so I did.

The art film that means the most to me is… there is one film that has stayed with me my whole life and that is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It still terrifies me to this day! The child catcher was the most disturbing character ever to me. He would sniff the children out with his huge nose. He was so sinister and would walk around with a giant net. It was nightmare fuel.

My favourite Irish artist is… Gareth Reid. I went into the National Gallery of Ireland specifically to see his portrait of Graham Norton. I am in awe of how he can capture a moment, a feeling , personality. I find it incredible. The Sky Arts show Portrait Artist of the Year is addictive watching. I love that a group of artists can study and paint the same person for three hours, then turn around thir easels and reveal completely different portraits. I know I was also inspired by Warhol.

The most challenging thing about being an artist is… time – trying to find it. Even though I work as a full-time artist, I need to be pedantic and organise myself so I can be fully immersed in my paintings.

If I wasn’t an artist, I would be... a cook! I am obsessed with food. I would love to be an online influencer and cook all day. Myself and my three girls send TikToks to each other all day long and then we decide what to make that evening. I would love to write a cookery book and create paintings for each recipe choosing one item from the ingredients.

Imagery courtesy of Orla Walsh. You can find out more info about Orla’s pop-up shop here.