Dublin City Arts Office
The LAB, Foley Street, Dublin 1

+353 1 222 5455

Past Exhibition

Below the Surface

Cathy Henderson

January 07 - February 07 2007

The LAB is pleased to present an exhibition of new portraits, Below the Surface by Cathy Henderson. This exhibition comprises as series of oil on canvas portraits of Dublin City Council maintenance workers. The paintings are augmented by a revealing recording of the people in the paintings who talk about their work in the public domain and the attitudes of the citizens of Dublin to them and the work that they do.

This body of work was produced as a way of acknowledging the efforts and committment of Dublin city's workers who continually maintain, clean and look after our streets, parks, buildings and whose work is crucial to keep the whole organism of the city running smoothly.

Cathy Henderson’s recent practice has involved making images of people both as rapidly executed studies of workers and finely worked studies of individuals at repeated sittings. She is increasingly absorbed by portraiture as a contemporary art form and is especially interested in how artists create and recreate images of people.

Cathy’s current practice is particularly concerned a with subverting the traditional choices of subjects for portraits displayed in the public arena, generally those who have achieved a position of social, political, historical or cultural prestige and seeks to capture the uncelebrated in her work. In doing so she is also exploring the relevance of portraiture in contemporary society. 


Cathy Henderson lives and works in North Wicklow. She graduated with an MA from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin in 1993. Her work is included in an increasing number of private and public collections in Ireland, the UK, the US and Canada and she has worked to commission for many private and corporate clients including the ESB, Guinness and Bank Of Ireland and the BBC. This exhibition was recently shown in the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray and will travel to the Civic Offices on Wood Quay from 18 to 22 February 2007. 

Speaking about Cathy's work Robert Ballagh said: "There is a saying that history is always written by the victors and certainly in the realm of portraiture the majority of representations in museums and galleries are of society's rich and powerful, consequently, I believe that Cathy Henderson's decision to paint the "unsung heroes" of Dublin is not just brave but also quietly subversive. These paintings of the anonymous workers, who struggle daily to keep the city functioning, seem to me to work on two essential levels. Firstly, they are well made pictures and a good portrait must always be a successful work of art but also, and perhaps more importantly, they effectively capture a "likeness" of their subjects. This I can affirm for when I visited Cathy's studio I found myself looking at many familiar faces; undoubtedly this is a consequence of my being a citizen of Dublin's inner city where I have seen many of Cathy's subjects going about their daily round."

After an open invitation, Cathy then began this series of portraits of people working for Dublin City Council in areas such as cleaning, refuse-collection, repair and maintenance - the kind of workers who’s efforts she felt might generally go un-celebrated or taken for granted.

In addition to the 24 paintings shown here, Cathy recorded conversations with the participants who talk about their work in the public domain and the attitudes of the citizens of Dublin to them and their work.  Their stories augment the personalities revealed in the paintings and also reveal more about the relationship they have with the city.

Past Exhibitions

The Past is a Foreign Country

The Past is a Foreign Country

Anita Groener

May 24 - August 18 2019

The Last Great Album of the Decade

The Last Great Album of the Decade

Anne Maree Barry, Declan Clarke, Alan Phelan, ClĂ­odhna Timoney, The Brian McMahon Archive (Brand New Retro)

March 22 - May 12 2019

In Course of Rearrangement

In Course of Rearrangement

Marielle MacLeman

January 24 - March 10 2019