Kilkenny welcomes 24 Irish designers & makers in prestigious PORTFOLIO exhibition

Posted 14.11.19

Image (l to r): works by Emma Bourke, David McCaul and Joseph Walsh

Surface Matters, an exhibition of new and innovative works from the Design & Crafts Council Ireland’s PORTFOLIO: Critical Selection 2019-20, will open at the National Design & Craft Gallery in Kilkenny on Thursday, 21st November. The 24 Irish designer-makers represented were selected by an independent expert panel for demonstrating excellence in craftsmanship, design quality and technical skill by international standards. Surface Matters originally opened at the Coach House Gallery, Dublin Castle in February 2019 before touring to Artesania Catalunya – CCAM, Barcelona from May to July 2019. This exhibition will be officially launched by internationally renowned sculptural furniture designer and PORTFOLIO member, Joseph Walsh. The winner of the annual RDS Irish Craft Bursary (worth €10,000) will also be announced on the night.

Curated by Liz Cooper, Surface Matters showcases exquisite works, ranging from wood and glass to metals and ceramics, and includes names such as renowned leather designer Úna Burke, ceramicists Grainne Watts and Jack Doherty, silversmith Cóilín Ó Dubhghaill, furniture designers Sasha Sykes and Stevan Hartung, and jewellery designer David McCaul (full list below). Visitors to the Kilkenny exhibition will also have the opportunity to view works newly on display by Joe Hogan, Mike Byrne, Emma Bourke, Joseph Walsh, Cecilia Moore, David McCaul and Zelouf & Bell.

Surface Matters considers the extraordinary skill and attention to detail involved in the creation of these contemporary craft objects. From the application of an exquisite patina and the repetition of building a complex form to a deep understanding of how their materials perform, there are many significant skills and attributes that set these makers apart. A well-crafted object gives much visual delight, may make pleasing or intriguing sounds when handled and, if made of an organic material, may also have a scent that evokes other places or times, as soothing or disturbing memories.

Surface in craft and design is not simply a lick of paint or a gloss of varnish. Instead it speaks to us of the skill and knowledge of the maker, in their understanding, handling and processing of the materials that make up the completed forms, be they raw matter like raw metal, wood, yarn or clay, or those mediated by manufacture, including molten glass, alloys, glazes and varnishes,” Cooper said.

The 24 makers were selected by an independent jury for PORTFOLIO: Critical Selection, the Design & Crafts Council Ireland’s flagship biennial publication showcasing Irish contemporary craft. Initially launched in 2005, the PORTFOLIO programme was developed to actively grow the reputations and potential of designer-makers across all major disciplines of contemporary craft. It currently features over 140 of Ireland’s most renowned makers. The biennial publication is used to increase awareness and understanding of leading Irish makers and their current work, and acts as a valuable reference for collectors and galleries worldwide. The 2019-2020 edition features new additions: jewellers David McCaul and Annemarie Reinhold, glass artist Emma Bourke, woodturner Alan Meredith and furniture maker Ciaran McGill.

The winner of the RDS Irish Craft Bursary will be announced at the exhibition opening on 21st November. This award is open to all members of the PORTFOLIO programme, both those who are featured in the Critical Selection publication and also those included in the wider, online programme, and is for activity taking place in 2020. 

Surface Matters first opened at the OPW’s Coach House Gallery, Dublin Castle on 21st February 2019 and ran until mid-May before touring to Centre D’Artesania Catalunya, Barcelona from 30th May to 21st July 2019. 

The designer-makers included in PORTFOLIO: Critical Selection 2019-2020 are:

  • Roger Bennett (wood)
  • Emma Bourke (glass) – new to the Critical Selection
  • Úna Burke (leatherworking)
  • Mike Byrne (ceramics)
  • Eimear Conyard (metals)
  • Jack Doherty (ceramics)
  • Sara Flynn (ceramics)
  • Stevan Hartung (furniture)
  • Jennifer Hickey (ceramics)
  • Joe Hogan (basketry)
  • John Lee (furniture)
  • Ciaran McGill (furniture) – new to the Critical Selection
  • David McCaul (jewellery) – new to the Critical Selection
  • Alan Meredith (wood) – new to the Critical Selection
  • Cecilia Moore (metals)
  • Cara Murphy (metals)
  • Cóilín Ó Dubhghaill (metals)
  • Stephen O’Briain (furniture)
  • Nuala O’Donovan (ceramics)
  • Annemarie Reinhold (metals) – new to the Critical Selection
  • Sasha Sykes (furniture)
  • Joseph Walsh (furniture)
  • Grainne Watts (ceramics)
  • Zelouf & Bell (furniture)


For further press information, please contact Lily Killeen at FleishmanHillard Dublin at: or 01 618 8444. 

Notes for editors

About Liz Cooper
Liz Cooper is a curator who specialises in contemporary craft, especially art textiles. She works with many artists and organisations, building audiences and contexts for craft and design practice. Since 2014 Liz has been part-time development manager for Design-Nation, a portfolio of leading designers and craftspeople in the UK. Previously she worked for The National Centre for Craft & Design, Smiths Row and Contemporary Art Society. Liz has a busy independent practice as a curator, consultant and writer. In 2018 she curated ‘The 62 Group of Textile Artists’ exhibition ‘Ctrl/Shift’ for MAC Birmingham, which is now touring until early 2020. Other exhibition projects include ‘What Do I Need to Do to Make It OK’, ‘Beauty is the First Test’ and for West Dean ‘Artists Meet Their Makers’. Liz studied textiles at Goldsmiths College, London, and has been a core member of CraftNet since 2014.

The Design & Crafts Council Ireland’s PORTFOLIO programme actively works to grow the reputations and potential of designer-makers across all major disciplines of contemporary craft. Featured makers are those producing innovative objects, either one-off pieces or limited editions, and working to the highest standards of design quality and technical skill. Selected by an international expert panel, the programme currently features over 140 of Ireland's most renowned makers in disciplines including ceramics, glass, jewellery, metals, paper, textiles, fashion, calligraphy, furniture, woodturning, stone and basketry. PORTFOLIO: Critical Selection, which is part of the broader PORTFOLIO programme, is a biennial publication of the best of Irish contemporary design and craft in a world-class context. The publication aims to increase awareness and understanding of leading Irish makers and their current work.

About the National Design & Craft Gallery
Established by the Design & Crafts Council Ireland in 2000, the National Design & Craft Gallery is Ireland’s leading centre for contemporary craft and design. It exhibits Irish and international designers, artists and makers who push boundaries in their engagement with the making process. Its mission is to inspire appreciation, creativity and innovation, and it plays a critical role in building understanding of craft and material culture in Ireland.

About the Design & Crafts Council Ireland
The Design & Crafts Council Ireland (DCCI) is the national agency for the commercial development of Irish designers and makers, stimulating innovation, championing design thinking and informing Government policy. DCCI's activities are funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation via Enterprise Ireland. DCCI currently has over 60 member organisations and more than 3,000 registered clients.

About The RDS 
The RDS (Royal Dublin Society) is one of the world’s oldest philanthropic organisations; it was founded in 1731 and works to see Ireland thrive culturally and economically. It does this by working across a number of areas, including the arts. Craft is an important component of its arts work programme.

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