“I hate artist statements,” wrote American creative, Iris Jaffe. “As an artist, they are almost always awkward and painful to write, and as a viewer they are similarly painful and uninformative to read.”
But here goes…
Sligo Born and Bred
I was born in Sligo and I grew up in Doorly Park on the banks of the Garavogue River. It was a beautiful, scenic area and certainly gave me the inspiration to record places of natural beauty in paint, pen and watercolour pencils. My first paintings were imagined landscapes in watercolour and oil paint. They were based on the river, lake, islands and landscapes I grew up with and saw around me. For some reason unknown to me I included wooden fences around the perimeters of the islands. I had not been aware of the painted fences in my paintings until one day my father asked me why they were there. I had no answer for him then and to this day I still wonder about this quirky anomaly.
I attended Summerhill College for my secondary school education. The art teacher there was Bernard McDonagh. I remember I admired the mural Mr. McDonagh painted in Sligo library of ‘The Battle of the Book’/ the Battle of CúlDreimhne. He also had another mural in the Town Hall. I remember it was inspiring for me to have an artist from Sligo painting scenes of places that I knew so well.
I later studied art in Sligo Regional Technical College for four years. Fred Conlon, a talented sculptor, opened my eyes there to seeing and appreciating abstract visual imagery and creating sculptures myself in a variety of media. I also gained a love for black and white photography as an art form in itself. This was under the guidance and encouragement of Jacques Piraprez, whose weekly assignments trained me to think of subjects in a new way.
The final year of my art education was in National College of Art in Kildare Street, Dublin. There I was trained to be an art teacher and learned a new craft, the art of working with leather. I was intrigued by the unusual tools used for working with this versatile material and I acquired the basic skills of the craft. Our lecturer was Mr. Brendan Brennan who encouraged us to explore natural vegetable tanned leather as a material for constructing, moulding and relief work.
Learning New Crafts
This urge to learn new crafts is something that has always driven me. I have spent many years developing skills in sign painting, hand-built pottery, stage craft and set design and pyrography.
I never tire of investigating and enjoying the work of other artists.
I really love the illustrations of Brian Froud. Mr. Froud is the pre-eminent faerie artist in the world and his body of work captures in a dazzling way the denizens of this world of enchantment.
Who could not admire the many roadside sculptures throughout Ireland and in our city streets? One in particular that I admire is the magnificent piece by John Behan. It depicts a Coffin Ship with skeleton spirits. It commemorates the victims of the Great Famine of 1845 who were lost on the hazardous journey to America. The sculpture is located at the foot of Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo.
I remember seeing an exhibition of M.C. Escher’s mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. Despite wide popular interest, Escher was neglected in the art world, even in his native Netherlands. I am still in awe of his technical brilliance and original subject matter.
I admire the pictorial narrative, imagination and painterly skills of Norman Rockwell. Mr. Rockwell is best known as an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post magazine. His whimsical scenes capture the America of his day in an idealistic way.
I love the mark making in the work of Tony O’ Malley. His work goes beyond the narrative and captures an essence of visual mindfulness.
For most of my working life I was the teacher of Art, Craft & Design in St. Macartan's College, Monaghan. Teaching Art in an all boys Secondary School was certainly an adventure and very seldom dull! It was also an immensely rewarding career for me. Unlocking the unlimited possibilities of students, and being constantly surprised by their creativity and ability, was a recurring source of enjoyment for me as an art educator. I regularly meet past pupils and enjoy hearing about their lives and careers. I retired from teaching in 2014.
I first began exhibiting in 1987 and I continue to display my work in public on a regular basis. I love to build finely detailed pen and coloured pencil drawings. I also paint using gouache paints. I like to combine my ability to record detail, in fine liner pen with watercolour pencils. I like clean, vivid colour in my paintings. I enjoy drawing people, street scenes and architectural details, landscapes and seascapes. I paint forests and flowers, and still life arrangements of various objects.
Today I work happily as a full time professional artist from my studio in the village of Emyvale, Co. Monaghan. I have lived here for over 30 years, raised a family of our and welcomed three grandsons to this lovely place. I redesigned the garden since I retired and it has really become a haven during recent times. I have a need to create, solve or plan and, as the saying goes, "I have more ideas than time!" In my studio there are always pictures on display and visitors are very welcome, bearing in mind any current Public Health advice or restrictions.