Belfast Telegraph

'Van Gogh didn't have to pay council tax': Northern Ireland artist on The Apprentice appearance and influence of back home

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A Co Down artist featured on hit BBC programme The Apprentice has spoken about appearing on the programme, and the role Northern Ireland plays in her work.

On Wednesday night's programme contestants travelled to Glasgow to meet with artists and get to grips with the art world, selecting work they then attempted to sell.

The work of Co Down native Eleanor Carlingford was chosen by members of the winning team sponsorship consultant Jackie Fast and lifestyle brand owner Daniel Elahi.

Eleanor was born in Newry, but grew up in Kilkeel, Co Down before moving to Scotland for university at 18.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Eleanor said she got involved in the programme after being approached through the studio she works with Art Pistol.

"I was slightly inclined to be sceptical in the beginning," she said.

"But after awhile I started respecting the production company and the way they filmed the thing. I would even go so far as to say they had integrity."

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An example of Eleanor Carlingford's work called One Woman's Voice, Four Saxophones / Credit: Eleanor Carlingford

As part of the task in Wednesday's episode Eleanor's work was put work in front of corporate clients from a stereo company.

"That was fine, I knew that there was corporate buyers who had been set up," she said, emphasising it was important the work was not compromised.

Shooting down a proposal to put the paintings on merchandise such a biscuit tins, a compromise was reached with Eleanor producing a piece to be used for a t-shirt and tote bag.

"I mean we can’t be too uppity about who buys art because we need to live," she said.

"I mean most of us in the creative industry do another job as well. I do Airbnb because it would be impossible to sustain all the time. You need to pay your council tax every month. I don’t think Van Gogh paid council tax."

A relative latecomer to the field, Eleanor's career took off after she got the opportunity to train at Glasgow School of Art at the age of 45.

Despite living away from home for more than 20 years, Northern Ireland still plays a key role in her work - with the surname 'Carlingford' taken as a tribute to Carlingford Lough (her real name is Ironside).

"Because my work is about identity, and because a huge part of it is autobiographical I feel there is a Northern Irishness about it and I would love to exhibit in Northern Ireland and have never had that opportunity yet," she said.

Asked to describe her work, Eleanor said: "It is large, colourful, expressive, figurative, and it is all about who you think you are. How do you know what your identity is. An investigation of that."

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An exampled of Eleanor Carlingford's work called Still, Invisible World Behind / Credit: Eleanor Carlingford

Eleanor said she was impressed by the difficulty of the task set for the contestants.

"You know I have to be honest if I was painting little Highland scenes or you know seabirds or something they would be much easier to talk about than my work. My work is challenging," she said.

"The first two apprentices who came into see it from the team who didn’t choose me were like rabbits caught in the headlights.

"They just kept saying: Wow! Wow! Wow! And they just couldn’t really think of a way into it.

"Something to ask that would give them any insight. They hadn’t really looked at work like that before and that kind of work is challenging. I thought it was a great ploy on behalf of the production team to give them such challenging work.

"It is slightly more interesting than making doughnuts."

Eleanor's work can be viewed on her website.

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