Like many of my fellow-students at the Ulster College of Art, I eventually pursued a career in teaching from 1971 onwards and quickly abandoned the idea of becoming a full-time painter. Precious few graduates I knew continued to paint or sculpt. One friend, Vernon Carter, who actually went into teaching at the same time, managed to continue as an artist; it became almost a daily routine for Vernon to draw and paint and make sculptures. I don’t know how he did it because teaching can be extremely exhausting.
I did dabble a bit with brushes at weekends but to no avail. However, I thought continually about art and I’m glad I did because after more than twenty years of, in the practical sense, shilly-shallying around the subject I managed to conflate my thoughts with certain lines of poetry. These lines were not from poems per se but from song lyrics describing the microcosm of the Irish landscape. I had been singing these songs for years and always thought that some of them were very “painterly” indeed. It was time to look seriously at these lines and produce some landscapes that were, perhaps, less representative and more impressionistic. If I used an intensification of colour in these paintings they could even be termed “expressionistic”, and if I deployed the techniques of Jackson Pollock and Marc Rothko I could be leaning towards the abstract in some of them. In 1993 it all happened. My first one-man shadow opened in the Duke Gallery of Dublin in October of that year.
My modus operandi
“I listen to a song or a piece of instrumental music and something comes into my mind. I start painting.
In the case of a song, it’s not just the words but whatever mood the music suggests: the rhythm, the instrumentation, the melody, etc. Ultimately, it’s the totality of the experience that assails my senses.
If it is a particular poetic image that sticks in my mind the outcome may not be a photographic representation of that image but a response to the musical mood in which the image is cradled – words and music and paint become one and the same entity.
This process allows me to be abstract at times…but not detached from the emotional pull of the music. It’s a human response to the beauties of the world. I suppose I’m very romantic in that respect!”