July 2021: On being a Contemporary Irish Artist in London

Contemporary Irish artist Aisling Drennan in her painting studio.

How did I become a contemporary Irish artist in London?

Recently I had a zoom interview in my studio with Mathew from London Irish Stories about being a contemporary Irish artist in London. London Irish Stories is a community-led mixed-media project collecting and celebrating the diverse stories of contemporary Irish people in London today. They’re researching the rich stories of London’s large, multi-generational Irish community & thinking about what makes Irish people different but also, what unites us too. Read & hear snippets of the full conversation here.

I have been London based for almost 10 years. I first moved here to complete my master in fine art degree at Central Saint Martins and after graduating decided to see if I could set myself up as an artist here. I already had the experience of living in different countries because before I began my initial art education at CCAM-GMIT I was a professional Irish dancer for Riverdance- The Show touring the world full-time & part-time in between studies for about 10 years.

What is Riverdance?

If you’re not already aware of Riverdance, it is a grammy award-winning show which started out as a Eurovision Song Contest interval act and has emerged as what is definitely the most popular and probably the longest-running Irish performance act in history. The traditional Irish music and dance show celebrated its 25th-anniversary last year. Millions of people around the world have seen Riverdance and I’m really proud to be part of a show that has become an Irish cultural phenomenon. 

Contemporary Irish artist Aisling Drennan dancing with Riverdance in 2006
Performing in New York 2006

What we chatted about

In this interview with London Irish Stories, I chatted about moving from life as an Irish dancer to life as a contemporary Irish artist in London & all that happened in between- it’s been interesting! I have unforgettable memories from touring the world with Riverdance. It not only influenced my painting practice but was also the foundation for my art education.

Contemporary Irish artist Aisling Drennan dancing with Riverdance in 2008
Performing in Tokyo in 2008

I performed in over 400 cities covering 43 countries over 5 continents. I experienced many different cultures that have helped shape me and my view of the world. I always had my sketchbook in my suitcase and made a point of checking out the museums and galleries of each city I was performing in.

For example, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo where I experienced Martin Creed’s Turner prize work and one of Louise Bourgeois giant spiders or The Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh or Factory 798, the art district in Beijing which houses artists open studios where you can meet & watch artists at work. The list is endless and it was amazing to see so much art. Everything I exposed myself to helped shape my critical thinking and informed my art history.

I like that I’ve cross-pollinated from one creative career into another- hope you find my London Irish story (so far!) of interest. Aisling x

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Aisling Drennan is an award-winning abstract artist with a London, UK-based art studio.

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