Nicola Russell (1964 – 2015)
Internationally-renowned local painter
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has learned with sadness of the death of the internationally-renowned Portadown-born painter, Nicola Russell, who died on June 15th aged 51, following a long battle with cancer.
Nicola specialised in equine and floral artworks and was recognized as one of the world’s finest equine artists. She produced paintings that are in private and public collections around the world, including those of the Queen, former US president Bill Clinton and Irish president Michael D Higgins.
Her formative works, produced as an art student in Belfast and Winchester School of Art, were political and informed by feminism, but it was when she turned her attention to flower painting that she found her métier and a highly-appreciative audience for her work.
In 1995, early in what was to become a highly distinguished career, she was supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland with the award of a British School at Rome scholarship. Just two years later, her reputation as an artist was such that she was commissioned by Senator George Mitchell to paint a portrait of President Clinton to commemorate the anniversary of his first visit to Belfast. A year later she presented HRH Queen Elizabeth with a painting of a ‘Wild Irish Colt’ and in 1999, the year she opened the Nicola Russell Gallery & Studio in Holywood, she painted the portrait of Dr Mo Mowlam, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
There followed a large number of commissions and paintings of particular note, including the 2001 ‘Arkle, One in a Millennium' commission installed at Farmleigh, the President of Ireland’s State Guest House, Dublin, and the exhibit in Dublin Airport in 2011 of the famous Irish racehorse, ‘Istabraq’, Europe’s largest contemporary equine painting.
Nicola was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Although the cancer appeared to be in remission, in 2013 she developed secondary cancer. She was an outspoken public supporter of Cancer Focus NI's campaign to end the 'postcode lottery' over the availability of specialist drugs to treat cancer in Northern Ireland.
Deirdre Robb, Visual Arts Officer at the Arts Council, paid tribute, saying, “She was a remarkably talented painter who enjoyed an equally remarkable career. She was a great creative ambassador for Northern Ireland and, particularly with the equine paintings, there are few painters who could have claimed to be her equal.”
Nicola Russell is survived by her partner Kenny Boyd, parents Jill and George, brother Richard and sister Gail. Her funeral will take place at Roselawn Cemetery in Belfast at 11am on Saturday.