My first art career 1981-2001
When I decided to leave my job on a farm and start a full-time painting career in 1981, it was because I felt impelled to give my time to painting. I had reached the age of thirty, and I felt I needed to get on with it. I did not really have a proper plan, but I have always been an optimist, and mostly I have not had cause to regret my rash and brave decisions. Life is short, and there is no time for getting stuck in a life that has not been chosen.
Although my life on the farm was far from unhappy, I had this inner drive that kept pushing me to keep painting. In the three years that I had been there I had painted more and more landscapes, always landscapes. I had discovered that I worked better from photographs. Painting in the open air is not ideally suited to the Irish climate, and the rapidly changing light means that it is extremely hard to capture a scene in a single sitting. There are some artists who do manage it, perhaps they have a better memory, but I was not one of them. So in 1980 I bought a Fujica SLR, and in the following twenty years I must have taken many thousands of photographs. By this time I had begun selling some of my work.
Before my notice to leave my job expired I had already opened my first One-man show in The Third Policeman gallery in Dublin. This was quite successful, thanks to the many friends and relations who came to the opening and bought paintings.It was the first of many exhibitions that I organised in the next five years. Although the paintings were mainly Irish landscapes, I nearly always included some of my “imagined” pieces, fantasies and inventions which I loved doing.
I had been seeking to develop my imagination through drawing and painting for most of my life and clearly from this time (1980-81) I had the idea of presenting it to the world when it was ready. In the meantime, my landscape and genre painting would help me to develop a kind of vocabulary of images which would help me later on. I thought- perhaps naively- that the people who liked my work back then would come around to this more personal work.
In the next 20 years I exhibited in many galleries in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Looking from the present (Where I’m at now) I can see it was a preparation for the work I’m doing now. Of all the years 1985 was probably the most hectic. As well as starting to exhibit weekly in the brand new weekly street market on Merrion Square and the larger one on St. Stephens Green, I also did a residency in Switzers department store and organised three one man exhibitions. That Christmas I did my first craft fair in the Mansion House.
I continued with all these activities during the following years, and the craft shows and street exhibiting became a regular part of my calendar. Around 1987 I began painting scenes from a vanished time, from black and white photographs, mostly of Dublin in the early 1950s.These, along with interiors, became popular subjects that helped me to gain new customers.
In 1991 I produced the first series of twelve small prints based on Irish subjects old and new. I travelled around the country placing them in craft shops. With another set of twelve, produced in 1993, I continued this business for about six years. It was quite successful, and for a time I enjoyed going around the beautiful coastline and lovely landscapes of what they now call “The Wild Atlantic Way”. But after some time these places that I loved began to lose some of their appeal. Not just because I was visiting them so often, but because in the busy season, when i was there, there was so much traffic on the roads -I would be stuck behind a tour bus on the Ring of Kerry or in Connemara.
My studio at this time was close to the centre of Dublin, in Mountjoy Square, and I was a partner in a framing business there. We had a lease on the building and rented out studios to other artists.
Some time around 1997 – 98 it seemed as though the excitement and fizz was starting to go out of my work – this must have become evident in the results and was reflected in sales which began to decline.
In 1998 I had the first show devoted exclusively to “imagined” paintings. This was in the Cobalt Gallery in Dublin. This exhibition was successful in terms of sales but I was starting to run out of ideas about how to make a full-time living as an artist.
In 2001 I began driving a taxi while I started to seriously develop this imagined way of painting. Although I did not enjoy the driving after the novelty at the start, it was a relief not to have to paint one more Dublin landmark at sunset so that I could pay a bill. I had the freedom to paint what I wanted.
During this time I kept a studio, paying the rent so that I had a place to continue working. Even while I was only able to spend 10-20 hours a week there I was steadily making pieces which excited me.
First Exhibition. The Third Policeman Gallery 1981
30th November 2020 @ 7:57 am
A great read Diarmuid! Interesting how you found it easier to paint landscapes from photographs instead of standing looking at the landscape.