Change of Art
Quite simply there’s nothing as mad as a well spent afternoon in Dublin before or during or after The Races. Sometimes one brings the madness; the party will always follow. Several of her famous original racy set including a former Taoiseach and his sweetie lover have long since kicked their proverbial buckets but Noelle Campbell-Sharp is well and truly alive and very much kicking ass. The Charlie Haughey era is now banked, vaulted and sealed history. Today, Noelle captures the essential present face of a hugely successful Dublin art gallery and wildly far flung County Kerry artists’ retreat. Her face is exquisitely framed by sharp green glasses and fiery red hair complete with a yellow flame curl. Aged 77 now, she would still pass for Vivienne Westwood’s hotter more fun sister. Not many people, back in the day blonde, could outshine Jerry Hall. “I remember that was quite a party!” She’s getting ready for the latest private view in her relocated Origin Gallery. “The key is attracting some of the brightest artists in the world.” Like its forerunner the gallery is behind a Georgian façade in the Irish capital. That’s where the similarity ends. Abruptly. Her new gallery is… drummer boy roll for understatement… calmer. Wedgwood blue ceiling, deep navy carpets, virginal white walls.
As for the original original Origin… oh yes, time to talk about Noelle’s very steamy love affair with Napoleon. Perched above the piano nobile gallery, her just below the nursery floor eaves library was once a full blown homage to the homme. His heraldic birds and heroic bees were sewn into the carpet and painted onto the shutters while spreadeagled eagles boldly crouched on the bookcase columns, spreading their wings ever wider in an ever increasing ever encroaching clockwise span swooping over easy prey… “pray tell us more!”. A double barrelled stripy fabric billowed across the ceiling like the last sails of the French General’s ship. Among the miscellanea on display was an original drawing of the Imperial Arms of France. “What any French museum would give to get their hands on all this!” envied Karl Lagerfeld when he clapped eyes on her loot. A jib door in the trompe l’oeil wall slid through to a very sweet en suite decorated with the naughtiest mural in Dublin if not Ireland. It was enough to make sailors blush, although seemingly not the Napoleonic soldiers engaged in lots of action.
“I’ve totally fallen out with Napoleon. When I was a child I discovered tea chests in an attic brimming with his letters, jewels and toy soldiers. They sparked off my obsession. Actually I still sleep in an attic! I like to surround myself with antiquarian books. I can’t pass them by. William Butler Yeats, Empire Period, Irish folklore … alright maybe I am still just a bit in love…” Noelle is soldiering on with her autobiography. Five chapters completed so far. She counts Karl, Yves Saint Laurent and David Bailey among the many entries in her not so little black book; Robert Maxwell definitely doesn’t appear: he owed her £10 million before he toppled over portside; and with rock band manager, press baroness, socialite, conservationist, arts patron and gallerist filling her résumé, presumably there’s enough material for at least five more chapters?
Noelle’s forever dashing. An ostrich feathered fully plumed hat and sapphire laden museum quality choker necklace was once her fashion du jour. Tomorrow she’s off to Cill Rialaig, the abandoned rural village she transformed into an artists’ retreat with the help of celebrated architect Alfred Cochrane. “It’s on the last road in Ireland. New York is caviar compared to escaping to Kerry!” That doesn’t stop artists coming from far and wide – Argentina, Italy, Russia and so on. “There’s a selection process, but really it’s down to whoever spins the best yarn.” The Emerald Isle’s most recognisable Rolls pulls up on the street outside Origin Gallery. Ms Campbell-Sharp has left the building. Somewhere, across the city, a mad party is about to begin before or during or after The Races.