Congratulations are certainly due to Conor Harrington, the erstwhile street artist, whose Dance with the Devil, a large oil and spray paint on linen work was sold at Bonhams for €105,127 (including premium) on 28 January. That price catapults Harrington to the very top mark in sales at auction by living Irish artists. Not bad going for the thirty-five year-old Corkman who learnt his trade at LCAD.
It has to be said that Bonhams pulled out all the stops for Harrington by dedicating all of the first ten pages of the catalogue (which also included work by such lesser mortals as Damien Hirst) to the painting. But behind the promotion at Bonhams was also several years of support from the London-based Lazarides Rathbone Gallery and fine art printmaker which has been organizing solo exhibitions for Harrington in the US and elsewhere. Steve Lazarides built his business on promoting urban art and was Banksy’s agent until 2009. Did he also inspire Princess Eugenie to remark in an interview with Harpers Bazaar before Christmas that ‘I actually just bought a Conor Harrington print and it’s sitting in my bedroom.’ Certainly the timing was spot on!
However long before any such high-powered promotion got underway, the Irish Arts Review spotted Harrington’s talent and featured him on its front page in the Spring edition of 2012. Two years later, in Spring 2014, we devoted four pages to the progress of his career in an assessment by Brian McAvera who found that ‘there is little that is socio-political about his imagery. It’s a flamboyant, populist image stream, crammed with nudes, militia and a strong sense of the theatrical’ he said. Harrington himself stated that ‘I aim to paint a scene of great wealth and power but I have hints of erosion at the edges.’ In his earlier years, he said he was ‘very influenced by James Rosenquist and his photorealist, collaged imagery’. Elsewhere he remarked that ‘I like to see my paintings as a critique of the memory of power and ego while at the same time that power shows signs of decay.’
Ralph Taylor of Bonhams described Harrington’s ‘magisterial canvasses which unite the luxuriant, shadowy intensity of Caravaggio with the provocative roughness of the street’. No wonder the Dance sold at almost treble its lower estimate of €38,000. JM