Crete Suite Videos


Crete Suite – Diamonds from Elena Duff on Vimeo.

Followers from Elena Duff on Vimeo.

I recently completed a residency in Heraklion, Crete ( I spent my time there concentrating on taking footage for videos. These are a further exploration following on from my landscape and text series. The videos include text along with other elements to create period barrages of imagery and sounds.

I have given them the umbrella title of ‘Crete Suite’ as I composed the music for each of them and each has a different mood. Most also include recordings of the ambient sound while filming hidden among the other sounds.

Landscape + Text Series

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Since my return from Berlin, I’ve been really struck by the Irish skies and change of light (perhaps something you don’t notice as much when you live here permanently). My eyes were drawn again and again by the sheer scale of the landscape and beauty and vastness of the sky. I began (rather obsessively) to document scenes and this has led on from creating miniature worlds and people while I lived in an urban landscape, to instead responding to the wider landscape around me when I moved to a more rural setting. You can read more about my current practice here.

1916 Sackville Street Project

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Elena Duff_house 02_ 2400 x 3000px Elena Duff_house 03_ 2400 x 3000px

This is my  sculpture which was exhibited in April 2016 in the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. It’s part of a wider exhibition called the 1916 Sackville Street Project, which aims, in this, the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, to commemorate the 262 civilians killed during the Easter Rising. All participating artists and other groups will create a house shaped piece of art to commemorate their particular civilian. I have continued my current focus of landscape, in this case, cityscape, and lettering, this time in three dimensions.

I was allocated a male civilian called John Fennell who was single and worked as a van driver. The house I made features scenes from Dublin, which he may have seen while working, driving through the city streets, which existed in his time, but not ours. I included the South Dublin Union, as either injured, or already dead, that was his final destination. Also depicted is the, now demolished, Theatre Royal and Liberty Hall (destroyed during the Rising). I used a pyrography tool on wood to give a sepia tone, but its use also hints at the burning of the city during the events of 1916. Thanks to Glasnevin Trust for providing further details about John Joseph Fennell.

You can find out more about the project here. The exhibition runs from the 8th to the 24th of April 2016.

And below is the piece in situ in the exhibition space in the National Botanic Gardens.

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Due to the theme of this exhibition, there was plenty of press coverage, including this interview with the organiser Ciara O’Keefe, on RTE. This photo, also from the RTE website, gives some idea of the scale of the exhibition, which does just as it should, surrounded by seemingly endless houses, you realise the extent of the civilian casualties that took place during the 1916 Rising.


Miniature Figures Series of Paintings

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Following on from creating a miniature sculpted figures, I then used them as subject matter for a series of oil paintings.

Sculpture Series

pearly gates featured


While in Berlin I had begun to create miniature paper sculptures and these developed into using polymer clay to create less illustrative and more realistic looking doll-like figures. These formed part of sculptures and a series of photographs of the small figures which straddled the line between being realistic and creepily doll-like. These miniature people also became subjects for a series of paintings. When back in Ireland, I continued with these figures to a degree and began to create larger sculptural pieces such as the head above, which was created specifically for an exhibition in response to the Cavan Burren and wider Geopark including the cave system.


Elena Duff portrait Sky Arts

I’ve titled this collection as “Portraits”, but it is more a loose gathering of both portraits and paintings which include people’s faces which I’ve painted over the years. I exhibited twice at the (sadly now defunct) Arnott’s National Portrait Award Exhibition.

Above shows the progression of my painting style from my period of including organic patterns within paintings to paring down to a straight realist depiction in the most recent portraits, one of which is still in progress (the “Arnolfini Wedding”, was completed as a quirky wedding gift!)

My Fairytale Life Series

shaky foundation 1

This series of work began life in Berlin when I was between apartments with all my art equipment locked in a cellar in Kreuzberg. I created some small pieces for an exhibition from paper and ink i.e. ready to hand materials, and this sparked off a whole series of diorama style 3d scenes, which much later then led to making sculptures from clay and other mixed media.

The series was broadly based on the theme “My Fairytale Life” hinting at the illustrative quality of the drawing. I created tiny paper scenes within boxes or under glass in presenting a more adult, and depressing hopeless version of the fairytale ending. The sculptures led to some large scale ink and acrylic drawings completed in a similar style to the three-dimensional work and the use of drawings as photographic subjects.

Organic Semi Abstract Series

honey trap featured

I had been painting realistic images in a realist style, collaging images together to create one new image a pieces of art. This subsequent series began as a follow-on and retained the collage element, but instead of using realist imagery relied instead on entirely graphic elements built up in layer upon layer of acrylic paint until the completed image returned.

Over time these became more simplified and the colour palette featured a lot of white background in evidence. This more pared down, graphic-style continued on in my illustrative scenes in My Fairytale Life series.

Early Work

A selection of early paintings which focused on using collaged elements to create a wholly new image.

Sammlung Schirm

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I’m a bit late posting this, the painting below is included in the invitation and in an exhibition of works belonging to the German art collector Olaf Schirm. The exhibition is currently showing in Berlin.

The show runs until the 11th of October and there will be a talk with Olaf Schirm on Thursday the 8th of October at 7pm. All the details in the official invite, or gallery website below:


Connections 5 Exhibition Bristol

saucer of milk

saucer of milk

Saucer of Milk, digital print, 2012


Some of my works (sculptures, deep frames for wall hanging and the photograph above) will be exhibited in The Courtyard Gallery in Bristol as part of the Connections 5 exhibition.

Also exhibiting are Helen Warner who has amazing etherial figures within landscapes as subjects for her really stunning photographs, and abstract paintings by Kate Theodore which are vibrant and gestural and exceptionally well-executed.

The launch is on the 26th of September from 6.30pm to 9.30pm – to be included on the guest list email

The exhibition is also open on Saturday the 27th – Sunday 28th Sept 11am – 5.30pm, and by appointment until 24th October 2014.

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The exhibition takes place in an apartment within the stunning Paintworks complex in Bristol and this beautiful warehouse space will be transformed into a gallery space for the exhibition. This reminds me of the Freakshow exhibition I had works in in Berlin, which was also a live/work space and which the curator periodically transformed into a large gallery space. Had I my own large warehouse space I would absolutely do the same myself.

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Vanishing Art 2014

She Never Married featured

vanishing art both works


I’ll be exhibiting these two works at Vanishing Art 2014 sculpture exhibition in Carton House, Kildare.

‘She Never Married’ (on the left) has since taking the above photos finally been inserted into a decent display container, so looks slightly different now in situ.

The Irish Independent wrote of this year’s exhibition:

The free public art exhibit is back for its second year, combining the work of noted artists with a beautiful country setting.

Set in the breathtaking grounds of Maynooth’s luxurious Carton House resort, ‘Vanishing Art’ showcases the work of seminal Irish artists.

Over 70 of the country’s most notable artists including John Behan, Patrick O’Reilly, Ann Meldon and Carolyn Mulholland are currently preparing to display their impressive sculptures and paintings over the course of the exhibition.

It is expected that over 100,000 people will attend the free public event, taking in the 180 spectacular works of art on show.” 

Link to full article here

My works are minuscule in comparison to this giant thorn shaped outdoor sculpture shown being delivered here on Carton House’s twitter feed and will be displayed somewhere inside rather than being exposed to the elements outdoors.



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Further information about the event can be found on the Vanishing Art website and on their facebook page .

Exhibition opens October 1st 2014

The Head

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‘The head’ has been a nightmare from beginning to end. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong with ‘the head’.

I made version 01 of the head from air dry clay…but the clay was so wet that it just collapsed on me looking rather Wicked Witch of the West “I’m meeeelting”

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So, I let him dry out for a bit, stuffed him with newspapers and fixed the melted mess – below is the next stage images.

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After a lot more work I refined the face further down – an artist friend commented that he looked like he was modelled on “a young Ian Paisley”, which he wasn’t, but I could see the resemblance! At this point I was pretty happy with the head. All I needed to do was take the newspaper stuffed inside his head out and construct a neck and shoulders for him…

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But….as soon as I tried to take the newspaper out, his whole lower jaw literally shattered into dust, leaving only the top part of his head. Someone on my facebook page commented that it looked okay like this and perhaps to leave the head like this and I agreed, despite my bitter disappointment that after all my hard work on this piece that I was stymied in getting it to look exactly how I wanted.



However, the art gods had something else in mind. No sooner than I’d come to terms with having a jawless head, someone gesticulated too closely to it and it too landed on the floor and shattered into a million pieces….the only bit recognisable was the nose. The rest was grey dust – this was because I used an air dry clay with no kind of fibres to help bond the clay particles together and give it any kind of strength. Lesson learned to never, ever use that clay ever again – unless of course I want the end result to turn to a cloud of dust.

Undeterred but with a heavy, heavy heart I resumed work and began a whole new piece, this time from terracotta clay. I preferred the expression on clay head #1, to head #2, but time was against me, as I wanted to get this piece completed and fired in a kiln so that I could then paint it and have it ready in time for an exhibition.

The head below is head #2 and is pictured resting on two briquettes to allow air to circulate inside the hollow form to help it dry out fully (briquettes being compressed peat that you burn in an open fire)



Unfortunately…days after the above photo was taken, I went to lift the piece and move it and it cracked across the shoulder and then further stalagmites broke off…At that stage I cried. I have never, ever had such difficulty with any piece, even taking into account the fact that using clay on a larger piece like this is something I’m relatively new at. But, I was determined to have the piece I wanted and exhibit it as planned no matter what. Not after all the hard work I’d put into rescuing this piece from a number of disasters already.

head in car

I researched and I asked advice about broken unfired clay and was told to try misting the broken areas with water and then adding slip, allowing to dry and (hopefully) bond together again and then fire in the kiln. I did this, but then the person who said they’d fire the piece for me said they now couldn’t. At this point I just gave up on the whole idea of ever being able to finish the piece completely.

However, in the end I decided, sod it, I’ll paint the unfired piece as is and at least exhibit it. And I’m now glad I didn’t leave the piece at home unshown and broken.

Today I installed him in the exhibition. Below is the finished piece, painted using acrylic paint and varnish and surrounded by real stones in order to embed him further into a more natural setting.

Now that the piece is painted it looks exactly like what I had in mind – that it was formed from centuries of dripping, mineral-saturated water – the piece is based on the Marble Arch Caves in Northern Ireland – made specifically for the Response to Beauty exhibition which is on tomorrow (27th Nov 2014)

water formed 3 water formed 2

water formed


Of course…because he’s made from un-fired clay – which cracked again en route to the exhibition space, I have to make a decision what to do with this piece. I’m not sure if I can repair him without him cracking again, and am also unsure about whether firing a painted piece is good for the interior of a kiln or environmentally friendly.

At the end of this whole process I think I’ll take a silicone mould of the head and then cast him in some kind of durable material. I think too, that what all this has taught me is that perhaps making a clay sculpture and then taking a cast from it is perhaps the working method I should follow from now on, rather than trying to create ceramic sculptures that are to be fired.



Response to Beauty Exhibition

online invite

online invite

I have works in this upcoming exhibition which opens on the 27th of November 2014 in Trinity House, Thomas Ashe St. Cavan. The exhibition runs daily 12- 6pm, until the 7th of December.

This exhibition was curated and organised by poet Heather Brett following a series of talks and lectures up in the Cavan Burren and surrounding areas such as Dowra, the Marble Arch Caves and Lough Ouchter. I gave a talk myself at one of the events up in the Cavan Burren about the use of texture within art.

The exhibition will showcase some of the participants’ works, not limited to visual art but also including poetry and music.

There is a facebook page for the event:

A Fragile Trust



‘A Fragile Trust’ – readings of poetry and music along with art from participants to the Response to Beauty Project (including myself) as part of Culture Night 19th Sept, Buddhist Centre, Bawnboy.

I gave a talk as part of the Response to Beauty events in the Cavan Burren and wider Geopark which stretches across the border of north west Cavan and into Eniskillen in the Northern Ireland. Also speaking were photographer Milca Gabb and poet Noel Monaghan. The aim of the project which was organised and coordinated by Heather Brett was to bring together a loose network of creatives in and around Cavan county in Ireland and to use the Cavan Burren and wider Geopark encompassing the Marble Arch caves in Eniskillen as inspiration for their various art practices which cover story telling, photography, poetry, art and music.

This exhibition is a showcase for some of the responses to the area with a possible enlarged exhibition on the same theme to come later.

Exhibition opens 7pm on the 19th September 2014 at Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre,  – all welcome. Further details on the invite above. 


Me and My Shadow Solo Exhibition



I have been a neglectful website updater – the reason being I’ve been very busy finalising all the stuff for my solo show. However, one shouldn’t forget to alert people that their solo show is in fact on at all.

Above is the beautifully designed invitation for the exhibition (design for Meath County Council by

And here is the information about the exhibition:

The exhibition is presented by Meath County Council Arts Office. 

The opening night is on Tuesday 26th of August at 7pm in Ashbourne Library and Cultural Centre.

The exhibition, entitled ‘Me and My Shadow’ will be opened by award-winning author of The Herbalist Niamh Boyce.

The exhibition explores various emotions one experiences in solitude, with doll-like figures posing within their personal environments and evoking different emotions such as dreams, thoughts, hopes and fears.

The exhibition runs until the 23rd of September and is open during library hours.

Below is a piece publicising the show featured in the current edition of the Meath Chronicle.

Toradh Gallery Meath Chronicle article

Response to Beauty Cavan Burren

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response to beauty 2  Layout 1

(click to enlarge images)

The poet, editor and artist Heather Brett kindly asked me to give what will, hopefully, be an inspiring talk with images about using texture within art in relation to the Cavan Burren. This will be one part of a series of talks and events happening on different days over a period of a few weeks from July to September.

My day will be August the 30th and on this day the subjects of photography and design will also be covered. Included in the programme are walking in Cladagh Glen, a trip to the Marble Arch underground caves, talks on the arts, biodiversity, geology, literature, archeology and photography – depending on what day you attend.

I have visited this area and can truly say it is both unspoiled and spectacular, not only are the views on the drive to this destination wonderful, but the Cavan Burren itself is full of ancient monuments and historical interest. It feels like a very special and magical place, mossy, stony, hilly, ancient and forested and I’m looking forward to linking this landscape to textural techniques within art for my talk. To this end, I’ve been busy gathering artists, designers and craftspeople’s images with the view to providing anyone attending my talk a the spark participants to include textures in a new way within their own art practice in relation to the Burren and its landscape.

All the details of these events are below. Please note that participation is limited and also free and places are filling up! So, if you are interested in attending any of the days get in touch using the contact details:

Response to Beauty A shared learning Experience.

For more details please call:

or email:

Heather Brett will co-ordinate and facilitate 4 dates offer Cultural Arts discussions & workshops based on responding to the Cavan Burren & the wider Geopark. Talks are aimed at writers, artists, photographers, musicians, craft persons – amateurs to professionals – those interested in exploring the beauty of the Geopark through different artisitic disciplines. Informed experts will enable a deeper consideration of the area of West Cavan allowing the group to interact and develop their ideas with the assistance of the facilitator.

Talks by experts in biodiversity, geology, archaeology, literature, art and photography will take place over 4 dates in West Cavan. These dates/events are free but places are limited so booking is essential (*September dates to be confirmed)

Dates: July 27th, August 30th, September 13th & 19th* 11am-4pm (Light lunch included) Cultural discussions & workshops aimed at an artistic response to the landscape of the Cavan Burren and the wider Geopark.

Sunday 27th July Guided tour of Marble Arch Caves Fermanagh; a walk in the Cladagh Glen &  a talk on the Arts & Biodiversity

30th August: Art & Photography (Texture/Textiles, Light & Design (The Cavan Burren)

13th September: The Built Heritage/Geology & Archaeology (Moneygashel, Blacklion)

19th September: Culture Night (Jampa Ling Bawnboy) Each day the group (maximum 12 participants) will be working towards a body of work (that can be on-going) as part of a Culture Night Showcase Exhibition in Cavan on Friday 19th September (Venue TBC)

‘This project will reconnect us to our landscape, to celebrate through art and words this amazing history. The Earth has shaped who we are; our mythology, folklore and traditions. These areas (Global Geoparks) have strong links to the arts communities where the synergy released by bringing science and the arts together can yield surprising results’

The 4 dates will take place at different spaces in West Cavan. Places are limited, and you may book for all 4 dates or less – so book early. August 30th will be held in Blacklion and includes a picnic to the Cavan Burren with talks by artists, writers and photographers. For more details on how to book please ring 0870534737 or email:

Portrait in Progress

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mum portrait 1

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I’m currently painting a portrait of my mother for an upcoming portrait exhibition competition. As an aside, you can see how dark my studio is from the photo. An overhead light and three lamps are needed just so I can see and even with that, it’s still pretty gloom-filled. I decided to use a grisaille under painting technique for this painting and hope that since I’m really not familiar with it, that it’s not a risky manoeuvre which will take up more time than had I done my usual of lightly sketching out and going in directly with colours and then working over those.

I’m not familiar with glazing over what is essentially a giant drawing, but am curious to see if it works out. Using this technique certainly helps to get everything in the right place from the offset before colour is even thought about. Concerned that all this black and grey will dull the final piece but then, Ingres’s Odalisque grisaille version compared to his finished piece La Grande Odalisque doesn’t seem to have had that happen (not that I am comparing myself to him by any means). In any case, above is the first charcoal sketch, which I then worked up (below), so that the whole canvas was covered. Within a few hours I’d got to the point of painting the figure in tones of grey and starting to put in a wash in the background. My whites aren’t really white enough on the face or fabric, so I need to go over that again and bring up the highlights and the hands are looking rather odd right now(you could tell I was getting tired by the time I got to them…)

mum portrait 2

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Another layer on and I’ve added more white to the face and shirt and filled in some more detail using rough washes in the background. The mouth isn’t quite right, being too narrow instead of stretching out in a wider smile, so I’m going to work on that next time round, along with the eye on the right which is wrong somehow. For now, pre-fixing up any errors, here’s a photo of the latest layer:

mum portrait 3

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My mother herself upon seeing the above version asked if her face was that thin and sunken looking?! The answer was no, I’d made the shadows on her face too dark and had indeed made her face slightly too narrow. In the version below I fixed that, and also fixed her left eye which was too large and too far towards the hairline.

I’ve replaced the book of birds she had under her arm with a volume of poetry, seeing as the subject is a poet herself – obviously I’ve messily roughed in the title and will have to neaten it up at a later stage.

This is only my second attempt ever at using grisaille as a technique and I have subsequently read that I should have mixed burnt umber with the black to lessen the cooling effect of black on the glazes over it…oh well, too late for that, I’ll have to compensate by using extra warm tones if required. I’m rather apprehensive about tackling the skin and clothing of the figure in case I mess it up. As a start, I risked adding some colour to the eyes and lips and it feels rather as if I’m painting watercolour over black and white photos, which I suppose, I essentially am, although I painted the ‘photo’ in the first place. The eyes are too much of an unreal blue and lips are too orange right now, making it look even more like a tinted photo, but by following the rules I should leave these to dry fully and apply further layers of colour to eventually achieve the eventual desired tone.

I blocked in the main colours of the background stone wall and have left it like so for now. I need to consider whether to leave this very roughly painted in the end as a contrast to the more refined painting of the figure, or whether that would be too jarring. I also wanted to get a range of grey tones in the background down to make sure that the skin tone colour was correct in context to the background. In any case, that’s all for today and here’s the photo:

mum portrait 4

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I’ve started added layers of glaze. I think you can see that I’m doing it rather gingerly – or rather I can now see that I’m posting this that I’m doing it rather gingerly, seeing as how pale the face still is due to extremely thin layers of glaze. The hands have been done more roughly than the face and will be refined down later – although they probably look better, from afar anyway, for a looser touch and deeper tinted glazes. I keep refining the eyes to get them right, so they are a little more open in this version, although the bottom lids have disappeared so will have to return at some point. I also started to paint out the rough part of the book title in preparation for recreating the cover (which is a painting of yellow light on water and figures on a beach). Finally I added some grey/brown tones into the hair in preparation for lighter layers over it.

mum portrait 5

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For the next layer I added a thin glaze of blue over the subject’s shirt and concentrated on getting the cover of the book looking like the original. I added a glaze over the face, darkening it, but in reality didn’t like the jaundiced look it gave.

mum portrait 6

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However, upon seeing the above photo in comparison to the later one below, it looked better and more like the subject in comparison to the lightened skin below – the hands were also brought into line with the colour tone of the face, as they were painted quite darkly and roughly. In the image below I put a dark blue/brown glaze over the background stonework and like how it has unified this purposefully, roughly painted area.

I added the same colour but darker along with green over the stone wall around the figure. However, this darkened stone and the subject’s white hair which I began to paint in, and need to darken back in areas, combined with the current skin tone all serves to create a ghostly looking figure. The shirt needs to be darkened to the deeper blue that it is, and then warmer tones added to the wall behind before I will look at the skin tone in relation to all that is going on around it – hopefully then I can gauge the correct tone so that it reflects the pale and pinkish skin of the sitter, but without the dark background overwhelming what is supposed to be the primary focus of the painting, the subject in the foreground. So, basically, still lots of work to do on this.

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And below is the final completed painting, I gave some life to the skin which was looking rather ghostly and darkened her shirt and did a lot of work on the hands. I’m very pleased with the end result and most importantly it captures the sitter who is also happy with the end result.

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I painted this portrait as an entry into the inaugural Hennessy Portrait Prize in the National Gallery Ireland (2014). Unfortunately for me it wasn’t chosen as one of the 12 shortlisted artists. The list of who was chosen can be found here. And a few images of some of the shortlisted artists here.

Me and my Shadow Solo Exhibition 2014

Me and My Shadow

Me and My Shadow

My third solo is coming up this August 26th and will run until September 23rd. It’s taking place in the Toradh Gallery which is in Ashbourne, Meath. I will be showing a mixture of paintings and small sculptural works in wall-hanging boxes which I’m busy working on right now (which is why this website and blog has not been updated often enough).

The 2014 Toradh programme can be found here for dates of this year’s other exhibitors.

Backstage Exhibition Longford

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This was an exhibition of my work and of James Brady in the Backstage gallery in Longford.
I exhibited photographs and small wall mounted sculptural pieces alongside some of my paper works in boxes to show the progression of my work stylistically.

backstage 1

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backstage sculptures


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