Leith legend, Mary Moriarty has since the 80s been a key part of Leith’s vibrant community. For 25 years Mary was the landlady of one of Edinburgh’s most colourful bars, the Port O’ Leith on Constitution Street where she used to walk on barrels in high heels and where the clientele saw judges, writers, sailors, working girls, actors and labourers come together to drink side by side.
And now Edinburgh based artist Sarah Muirhead has been commissioned by Ms K Hamilton to paint Ms Moriarty and the portrait will hang pride of place in Leith Theatre, as it works to bring the full theatre back into regular use.
Mary Moriarty’s associations with Leith started before she moved to the port area in the 80s, she used to rent a warehouse in which she stored antiques before shipping them to her brother-in-law in the States.
Witness to the transformation still ongoing in Leith, Mary, now in her 80s, still cuts a dash and is a key force behind the popular Leith Festival.
Sarah Muirhead is a figurative painter born in Glasgow and based in Edinburgh since graduating from Edinburgh College of Art. She has exhibited extensively in the UK and was nominated as one of 10 new sensations by a panel including Kirsty Wark and Tracy Emin. She has exhibited in group and Solo exhibitions in The UK, Europe and US. A recent solo exhibition ‘Scopophilia’ was named in the Whitechapel Gallery top 5 during Frieze week.
Sarah’s work hangs in public buildings such as Oxford University and has been commissioned to paint several famous figures known for their contributions to art and science. Her work explores the physicality of altered bodies, focusing on voyeurism and the sensation of being watched. She refers to classical art and allegory and plays with the idea of control, judgement and sexuality, more recently referring to the ownership and decay of objects of antiquity and contrasting these with depictions of the human form.
At a special unveiling of the picture on Thursday 14 November invited guests will share in the reveal alongside the Queen of Leith herself. The portrait will hang in the Crush Foyer. There are no set opening hours for the buildings currently, but visitors will be able to see the portrait while attending the many classes and events which take place in the complex.
Mary Moriarty said, “I am honoured and delighted that a portrait of me will hang in Leith Theatre, how thrilling and exciting. Both the Theatre and myself have shared exciting times in Leith. I have very fond memories of 25 years in the Port o’ Leith Bar meeting lots of lovely Leithers and of course workers in the Docks and Crew members of ships docked in Leith. Credit should go to the lovely young talented artist Sarah Muirhead – it was great to be able to chat to her when she was preparing the painting, also a big THANK YOU to those who commissioned the portrait.”
Sarah Muirhead said, “I was delighted to be asked to paint such an extraordinary woman. It was important to me that Mary was honoured and represented as someone who is so loved and respected in her community and known quite rightly as Queen of Leith. A nod to her status as elected monarchy is the formal composition of the painting. I wanted to optics in the bottom left corner to look like jewels but to refer to her trade and background.
“I thought it right to make her halo a scene of Leith Links and to include a photograph of her husband who still feels like a very present figure in her life and that of the community of Leith. I included various objects in her home which she was kind enough to show me around and tried to communicate her warmth, character and nature which I think is distinct and unique. It was a pleasure painting someone I would have liked to paint regardless of the commission because she is fascinating and has a powerful presence.”
Lynn Morrison, Executive Director of Leith Theatre said,
We are so grateful to be the permanent home for this amazing piece. Not only to have the work adorn the walls of our original 1930’s tiled Crush Foyer for all to appreciate for years to come, but it is such a great opportunity to bring our local residents and visitors into the theatre and allow us to share with them the work and transformations that are happening within. There is so much potential for the future of this building but we have a huge amount of money to raise to fully realise this. We are always keen to find creative and innovative ways of bringing people in and embedding the identity in Leith and this wonderful portrait of Mary is so fitting!