“I was given my first real box of paints for my eighth birthday. I can still remember how enjoyable it was to sit outside our house that first day with these colours and brushes and make a picture of what I saw before me. That must have been April 1959 – we lived outside Kyrenia in Cyprus.
Since then the act of painting has remained my passion. Before long I was back in Ireland and wanted to paint the Irish landscape. I loved going into my uncle’s art studio, the smell of oil paint,. turpentine and linseed oil – the brushes and palette, and watching him paint.
I continued painting throughout my childhood and teenage years , wanting to represent what I saw in the landscape. We lived in South Kilkenny where my Dad was farming, and I wanted to try and paint what I saw in the landscape. At school I was lucky that my teacher, a sculptor, ignited that spark of enthusiasm. I made some woodcarvings. I was determined to go to art college.
After leaving school I had a gap year and worked for six months in a bookshop. Then I went to Italy, and lived mostly in Florence, soaking up all that wonderful city had to offer, and studying in a university there.
That autumn, 1969, I did start in art college, in Belfast. It was also the beginning of “the troubles” – 30 years of strife in that place – with hindsight not the best choice! However I did remain for three years and had some inspiring teachers.
During the summers while I was at art college I travelled to some fascinating places – The first was Finland, where I stayed with a friend at first in Helsinki, whose father was a British diplomat. I tore myself away from the glittering life of embassy parties and went North to take up a job in a summer school teaching kids who were about three years younger than I was. They were fascinated to learn about this little province called Ulster which was beginning to be in the headlines just then. Most of all I remember the haunting light in the landscape, in July most of the nights consist of twilight – that mauve violet light reflected on the lake surrounded by forest. After the day’s studies there was plenty of time for long treks through the wilderness, wonderful relaxing saunas, and special sausages grilled in the open air. I also remember a “happening” that I put on with a screening of “Closely watched Trains” by Jiri Menzel. This was a really magical summer, in which I fell in love, and I also went further North, to Lapland, nearly as far as The North Cape, just inside Norway.
The following summer I travelled to the United States of America on a J1 visa. Starting with a week in Westchester, New York, I travelled south on a Greyhound bus to Florida. The landscapes that I travelled through on that trip were incredibly evocative, especially when we reached the Carolinas, where the trees had long creepers hanging down, and everything seemed different. In Florida I stayed some time in Miami Beach, not having great success with employment, but making many friends and enjoying the exotic surroundings beside the Caribbean. I then travelled to Atlanta Georgia, where I spent about a month. 1971 was a fascinating time to be in the U.S.A. – the youth culture was exploding and I was in the middle of it all.
It was to be another nine years before I began my full time painting career. During that time I worked in bookshops and as a shepherd – among other jobs. In 1981 I left a job on a farm in County Wicklow, Ireland, to begin a full-time painting career. Having reached the age of thirty I decided it was time to get started seriously.