Lupita De Bhail.

Lupita De Bhail.

On display this month at Tramore’s beautiful Coastguard Cultural Centre is the work of local artist Lupita De Bhail.

The Kilmeaden native, who was head of the art department at Presentation Secondary School for many years, is also well known for singing abilities and has played lead roles in countless local musical society productions.

She first found a way to combine her two great passions of music and art at the age of 19.

“I first became involved with theatre when I was 19, when I helped out painting backdrops for Light Opera Festival in the Theatre Royal. I was hooked straight away…”

Lupita graduated in Fine Art from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin with an Honours qualification in education in 1976. She subsequently pursued a teaching career, first at CBS Lucan boys’ school and then at the Presentation in Waterford, where she was a past pupil.

“When I returned to Waterford to begin teaching at the Presentation I became involved with the school’s annual musical, which was produced at that time by Seamus Bolger. I worked backstage, doing sets and so on initially but I always loved singing. Eventually another teacher at the school, the legendary Fintan O’Carroll, advised me to have my own voice trained. So I did, in Waterford and then in Dublin, and I became involved with local musical societies, De La Salle and Edmund Rice.

“Over a 25 year span, I would have played many different lead roles and had a few AIMS nominations. When producers realised I had a background in art, I was given the task of set design and execution and all of these designs would have been for professional productions. I also would have done set design and painting for 21 schools shows over the years.

1“I would have also sang with the Waterford Show for a number of years and, more recently, performed on cruise ships visiting Waterford, with Tommy Comerford, Brendan Payne and the Higgins Academy dancers.”

“When Seamus Bolger passed away, I took over producing the musicals at the Presentation and in all I worked on 21 of those shows. I went out on a high with my final show at the school, which was Hairspray. The Transition Year students that year were a particularly great bunch to work with and we ended up with a superb show, if I do say so myself.”

After 36 and a half years, Lupita left teaching in December 2011 to concentrate on a full-time career in art.

“During my teaching career, I always wanted to do my own work but, when one is teaching, there’s very little energy left for painting and painting takes a lot of energy. So I decided that I would retire early to do what I always wished to do. It is hard work and you have to be dedicated. I make sure to paint four out of five days every week, so that some work is done almost every day.

2“I started off with life drawing and dedicated myself to that for the first year as I felt I needed to bring my work up to standard. I also started painting with a group based at the Coastguard Centre in Tramore. We do life drawing/painting classes on Monday and Wednesday nights in the Coastguard Centre. My friend John Cullinan persuaded me to get back into painting and now I work with him on Tuesdays and, since Mount Congreve reopened, I paint there on Fridays – weather permitting.”

3In this exhibition, Lupita uses acrylics and pastels to capture the illusive nuances of light and shade as a way of defining form in her still lives, landscapes as well as her human forms. She says she’s delighted to bring this exhibition to such an intimate and friendly space as the Coastguard Cultural Centre in Tramore.

“A lot of the work in the exhibition would have originated at the classes at the Coastguard Centre and the painting at Mount Congreve and I have John Cullinan to thank for that, he is such a great driving force for the rest of us in the group. I am kept busy and the various classes give me access to three different disciplines – human form, still life and landscape. All of these can be seen at the moment at the Coastguard Centre, which is such a lovely venue that I love working in.

“I’m also working on my next exhibition, a collaboration with John Cullinan and Rosemary Higbee at Garter Lane later this year. Rosemary would have been a former voice coach of mine at WIT. She’s been painting for many years and, although she’s now in her 90s, she’s still painting every day. Over the years, I would often have asked her advice on my work and I am really looking forward to this new exhibition.”

* Lupita De Bhail’s exhibition runs at the Coastguard Centre until 22nd June. The Centre opens Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 4.30pm, and 11am to 5 pm at weekends.