This International Women’s Day Northern Irish artist, Aly Harte will unveil her new collection of 12 original artworks to celebrate the inspiring women in her life. Each piece is a portrait, placing emphasis on the importance of the every day both in terms of the people behind the portraits who are part of Aly’s day-to-day life and highlighting the realities of women’s everyday lives.
Those that follow Aly on social media will know she’s a champion of positivity, women supporting women and a general bundle of joy to know and be around. She’s not afraid to show the realities of her everyday life and she’s not one to hide behind a mask of any kind. Having reached a stage where she feels comfortable and confident in who she is, she wants other women to feel the same and celebrate every part of those that inspire her. Her biggest goal was to translate that in each of these paintings with a mission of truly capturing character right at the forefront.
“I have a real passion for people loving themselves as they are like that line, love yourself from your brain to your bones. Unlike Instagram or social media where people feel they have to filter everything, I was really passionate that this was a portrait because it was a portrait. It didn’t need to be like a real crystal clear photo, it had to just capture character and light.”
“Love yourself from your brain to your bones.”
In line with this mission, Aly asked each woman to send a photo of their choice to her instead of doing a sitting, as would be the norm for a portrait painting.
“I really wanted that to be part of the language for it, that they took control of it. So rather than feeling like they had to get their makeup done or feel pressure to look a certain way to sit for the painting. I just asked them that it wasn’t filtered and it was something that they were happy with. So none of them are very posed photos. Some of them are business ones. Some of them are laughing or looking away. It was amazing how these women – who are like me – were so surprised that I wanted to paint them. They kept saying, “You want to paint me?” or “I don’t know if I have a photo or if I’m comfortable with any photos on my phone,” because especially being a mum, what happens is your phone gets full of your kids photos but as I pushed them, I eventually got it. But that was lovely because it felt like they had a part in it.”
When it came to deciding on the women to feature, it was no mean feat but in true artist’s style, Aly let her gut instincts do all the decision-making.
“I think as an artist you always start with an idea so you start with scribbles in a sketchbook and then names were just coming up. I sat on it for a month but these names just kept coming to me and so I took the plunge, approached the women and asked them.”
“My cousin died last January. She was 41 and was diagnosed on the day after her 41st birthday so I think there’s a wee bit of a tribute to her in it because it’s all women in my age bracket and her age bracket. And celebrating people who are raising the next generation.”
“Every one of them, as you make them, feels like an achievement because they each have their own strength. Some are very pale skin colours. Some with big hair, some with hair in a ponytail. It was really fun to do.”
Each woman in the collection represents the various pattern of Aly’s daily life and family – from mothers of her children’s school friends to women she encounters at the gym, women whom she has known since childhood and self-employed mums building businesses from burning desires in their own hearts, just like herself.
When asked how we can forge a society of #BalanceforBetter, the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day campaign, Aly said, “In a world where women find themselves swimming upstream to achieve gender equality – the women in my new collection of 12 portraits have shown me that it is possible to #BalanceforBetter and for women to have a place in the home and in the workplace. As a mother, artist, fitness fan and wife, I actively thrive on belonging to a community and that’s why I chose to celebrate the women in my various communities as my subjects when celebrating International Women’s Day with this new collection.”
“In a world where women find themselves swimming upstream to achieve gender equality – the women in my new collection of 12 portraits have shown me that it is possible to #BalanceforBetter and for women to have a place in the home and in the workplace.”
An advocate for women supporting women, particularly coming from a creative background, it’s clear Aly feels this support is crucial among women. “I do think it’s crucial that women build each other up because otherwise none of us stands a chance. There has to be a continual supportive exchange. Being a creative you already struggle with so many issues in your head (with regards to) your own identity and whether you should pursue a path in creative. It’s taken me a long time to get here. My mum was a childminder and so was I for two years for tuppence as well as having my own kids to look after. I had no idea where to start (in pursuing a career in art). I didn’t think I had any worth or any value. And I would say because I have an 85% female audience, I think back to those women, a lot of whom I’m friends with now, who believed in me when I was doing those tiny sketches and selling them. I think I wouldn’t have the career success that I do have now if I wasn’t supporting or supported by women and that’s from my customer base right through to people who have given me creative opportunities and commissions. So what it means to me is probably my success story comes from women supporting women and women supporting me.”
“My success story comes from women supporting women and women supporting me.”
Following a private exhibition at Parliament Buildings Stormont, schools and women’s groups will be invited to see the collection at various public locations across Northern Ireland. “I love to work with young people with disabilities and I like to work with people from all walks of life so I want to make it a real touring exhibition but making it so there’s much more depth to it with me being there and being able to offer skills as well and helping women.”
How better to spend International Women’s Day than by immersing yourself in an exhibition of some of Northern Ireland’s most inspiring women?