Artwork by convicted killer Lillis to form part of exhibition

A watercolour by Eamon Lillis who is an inmate in Wheatfield Prison, part of the "Crushed Bull" exhibition of prison art which runs for the next month at Kilmainham Gaol museum.

Convicted killer Eamonn Lillis will have two of his own paintings showcased at a national exhibition of prison art opening to the public this week.

The pair of watercolours were created by Lillis at Wheatfield Prison, where he is serving a six years and 11 months sentence for killing his wife Celine Cawley with a brick at their home in Howth, Co Dublin, more than three years ago.

Signed with the initials ELIL, one of the paintings features a dragonfly poised on a green leaf and looking in the direction of an open pink flower underneath.

The other appears to represent a hummingbird hovering over some vibrantly orange-coloured flowers, with purple stems and green foliage.

They will be among more than 145 pieces displayed at The Crushed Bull show at Kilmainham Gaol Museum in Dublin.

Renowned artist Robert Ballagh officially opens the exhibition, featuring the work of inmates around the country, tomorrow evening. Doors are opened to the public from Friday until April 15.

The Irish Prison Service runs a national art show every two years, with work from serving inmates as well as two post-release centres in Dublin.

A prison source said while works were not openly for sale, some had been sold in the past and if a potential buyer was very interested, contact could be made with an inmate with a view to selling the piece.

“The money goes to the prisoner,” said the source.

“But sometimes, if it was a group piece that was chosen, we might say give the money to a charity or that kind of thing.”

Other works at this year’s show include pottery, paintings, sketches, lino prints, sculpture, video, mosaics as well as jewellery which is usually made by inmates at the women’s prisons.

Those behind the works span a wide range of convicted criminals.

“It is everything from murderers, male or female, to petty criminals – it’s a pure cross-section,” the source said.

Many of the paintings were framed at an in-house unit at Wheatfield Prison.

Landscapes and animals are popular themes with inmates who attend daily art lessons put on at the country’s jails.

Much of the work is colourful imaginings or reproductions from prints rather than depictions of the drab surroundings within which they are incarcerated.

Many prisoners do exams in art, as well as music and other subjects, as a result of the lessons, with some going on to study at Dublin Institute of Technology or the National College of Art and Design.

Visitors to the national exhibitions usually include family and friends of inmates, particularly on opening night, as well as the general public.

The Prison Service said its classes were designed to help prisoners cope with their sentence, personally develop, prepare for life after release and build an appetite for lifelong learning.

“The benefits, sometimes unquantifiable, are of equal importance, such as learning to work on one’s own initiative, working as part of a team, anger management skills, respect and acknowledgment of other people, patience and understanding,” a spokesman said.

After Kilmainham, the exhibition will travel to the Raggle Taggle Gallery in Limerick from April 26 until May 10.

Last week, President Michael D Higgins praised classes in the country’s prisons after attending a play by inmates at Wheatfield.

President Higgins said the programmes helped not only the prisoners involved but also benefited wider society.


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