Cuban leader commissions Irish painter for portrait

AN Irish painter has been commissioned to paint a portrait of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Bill Griffin, a one-time oil-rig contractor, is to travel to Cuba in November for a series of sittings with the famous revolutionary leader.

A native of Cork city, Mr Griffin began painting in the mid 60s in London and moved into the oil business in the early 70s after failing to make any serious impact as an artist.

In 1999 he returned to full time painting to considerable success. His work is widely collected and he has had nine solo exhibitions in the last five years.

He has worked in painting, sculpture and photography, and is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Arts Council of Great Britain.

During his high-flying career in the oil business, Mr Griffin regularly rubbed shoulders with world leaders, including Colonel Muammar Gadaffi of Libya. However, in 1999 in what he describes as “a moment of madness”, he abandoned his career and returned to painting full-time.

He is part of a three-man exhibition currently running at the Cork Opera House. Better Late Than Never features his work and that of Paddy Campbell and Matt Lamb.

He is due to hold a five-year retrospective exhibition at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in October. His work is also exhibited at The People’s Gallery at Fenn’s Quay in Cork.

Mr Griffin may have his work cut out for him in more ways than one. Fidel Castro is noted for his vigorous and often many hour long speeches and is known to keep people waiting. He led the rebel uprising in Cuba against Fulgencio Batista in 1959 that resulted in his rise to power.

A group of 25 friends of the painter have arranged to fly from Shannon to Havana next November to support Mr Griffin as he becomes the first Irish painter to be commissioned to paint Fidel Castro’s portrait.

“The only trouble is,” said one, “that if Castro doesn’t like the painting, we’re all knackered.”

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