Speech at the launch of COLOUR! by Jole Bortoli

My true name is Red.

Once a magician told me that you should never reveal your true name to others let’s they gain power over you. But I feel safe here in the Ark, so I don’t mind telling you.

Red has always been my favorite colour since I was a child. I like it in all its shades, hues and tones. If I am buying something and it is available in red, I go for it.

I often wonder why we prefer a colour instead of another? I believe it suits our temperament – for me liking red it is a joyous, spontaneous and direct liking, no need to think about it too much. When I paint I may spend some time studying some particular colour. I find green challenging for example, with blue I love the ultramarine but don’t like cobalt, the cerulean blue I adore because it reminds me of the Italian skies in the Renaissance masters’ paintings, purple makes me a bit sad, yellow I like it for the Cold Play song.

During the school programme that has just ended in June I would start each workshop asking the children which was their favorite colour, assuming that the reds would win hands down over any other colour, but here was my great disappointment. Guess what colour got the most votes? Blue. Blue! Always Blue.

I want now to try and convince you all on the vital necessity of preferring Red. Red is associated with passion and danger and in my job these two characteristics are important to me.

Passion – as I grow older the passion for the arts in all its forms keeps growing, the passion for painting in general and for colour in particular keeps growing and the passion for working with children keeps growing too.

Danger – when a red light lights up to signal danger it warns you to stop doing something, before is too late, before you can’t turn back and say, “I wasn’t warned!” But years ago I, liking red, I took the signal for “go on!” and so I was caught up in the passion for the arts until it became an all-consuming thing and it took over my life. Can anyone be blamed? I blame the children!


Bathed in Red.

It all started back in the year 2000 when the Ark, the cultural centre for children in Dublin, was only five years old, my daughter and her friends were still young children and I was looking at the world through children’s eyes. The Ark’s Director of the time, Martin Drury, asked if I would run my first visual art programme. The theme was A Flood of Colour and colour is one of my passions. Without thinking too much I said yes. I remember it like it was yesterday: a four weeks school programme with hundreds of children coming through the doors. After the first couple of days, lying exhausted on the sofa, I thought I would never have the energy for it but by the end of the programme I had to admit that I just had the time of my life, or I should say I realized that my life, as an artist and facilitator was only starting.

Today 15 years later, after many visual art programmes here in the Ark I find myself involved in another programme where colour is the main protagonist. Last November when I was asked by former director, Eina McHugh if I would like to curate the exhibition and workshops programme I didn’t hesitate and said ‘yes!’ once more. This time I knew what was coming and my heart started thumping and the adrenaline rushing just at the thought of engaging in my favorite theme for an entire summer.

You must know that working in this building is equal to spending time in Tír na nÓg (Land of the Young, in Irish mythology), or in Peter Pan’s Neverland. Here in the Ark time stops, you cease to grow up, the children are always between 2 and 12 and all you have to do is play!


Coloured light. Windows’ design by John Kavanagh.

I believe that the staff, artists, assistants, interns and volunteers must maintain the capacity to play when they work here. Magic things happen all the time. Strange people, props and objects appear in the most unlikely places. For example you never know what you’ll find in the elevator! When you leave the workshop or the theatre set in a particular way in the evening you can bet that the during the night it gets transformed into something else. It is a bit confusing but you get used to it over time.

So I tried to apply a bit of magic too in curating this exhibition. Colour is such a vast and fascinating subject that you literally run the risk to get lost in it.

The focus I chose this time (in 2000 was ‘The Nature of Colour and the Colour of Nature’) is stories. The stories of the people past and present who through travels and trade, experiments and chance discovery, hard work and long apprenticeship have contributed to the making of colours .

The exhibition follows a very loose timeline introduced by the five characters you meet in the Alchemist’s den and who are also an introduction to the five sections of the exhibition and the workshops’ themes.

1) The Master Apprentice – in the Alchemist’s den you find the basic material that makes colour: the pigments, plants and minerals – their origin, the chemistry, and the discovery – you are told the funny as well as the serious facts about colour.

2) My Name is Gold – on the first floor in the long room we re-created the calm atmosphere of a medieval  scriptorium where book illumination takes place.

3) The Colour of Light – from the scriptorium through the wood-carved archway we enter into the sacred space of the cathedral and are bathed in the coloured light of the gothic windows.

4) The Story of an Apple –in this section we present object compositions from traditional to modern still lifes.

5) Rhapsodies in Blue and Pink and Yellow – in the enclosed white space we watch and listen to the beautiful animation work by contemporary visual artist and musician Michal Levy.

Finally to the top floor in the light-filled workshop where the real magic will happen, over the next few weeks children and adults will work together creating their own artwork facilitated by experienced artists.

In curating the exhibition I followed my likes and I was fuelled by my passions but I would never have made it without the assistance of the Ark’s staff. Without their professionalism, advice and creative contributions as well as solutions to the many technical itches.

Special thanks to Programme Manager Aideen Lynch and to Mark Rooney and Franco Bistoni, the splendid duo of the Ark’s Production Team.

Also thanks to:

Colour Detectives Damian Devani, Shan Ni Murey and Lizzy Morrissey;

the team of artists, Joanna Zmuda, Jane Groves, Paula Henihan, Orla Kelly and John Kavanagh who are going to facilitate the public programme. I am very much looking forward to working with clarinetist Paul Roe in the special live event on August 11th;

the artists’ assistants Saoirse Cruise and Cameron Hourigan and intern Ali Waters who have worked hard to help put the exhibition and school workshops together;

to interns Paula Murphy, Ursula Sawicka and Asling Dunne who are going to work together in the weeks to come;

the the people and organisations who have contributed with articles, books, prints and by lending objects and props from personal collections. They are Anne Crevin, Niall Hegarty, Nadette Foley, Peter Young, Michal Levy, Charlie O’Neill, Lucas Zmuda, Dolores O’Donnell of Monkstown ET, the Chester Beatty Library, Ken Harnett and Gavin Woods of St. Patrick Cathedral and gardener Jane Coulson, for filling the roof-top balcony with colourful plants and flowers.

One person deserves a very special thank you, because we all know how hard it is to separate yourself from your favorite toys for any length of time. She is 6year old Rosie O’Neill who has lent her fairy collection for the still life composition.

Finally a warm welcome to Aideen Howard, the new Ark’s Director. I want to take this opportunity to wish her all the very best in her new role as a captain of the very special vessel that the Ark is.

The COLOUR! Programme runs at The Ark until 23August 2015. See for details and bookings.


The Ark’s foyer with Music Scores painted by teachers during Professional Development Workshop, 6th June 2015.