Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why do I paint?

I suppose I picked up a brush when I was a child, as you do. But people liked what they saw, and my mother encouraged it. And somebody entered one of my paintings into the Texaco Art Competition back in the early 1970s, and it won a prize. I got a big box of poster paints, and I don't really remember this, but apparently it was a biggish deal among the cousins, so much so that one of them was jealous enough to steal the paints and hide them. But we laugh about that now. Kids, eh?

I kept it up because it was my thing. I liked it, like the privacy element of it, the fact that people could interpret it if they wished. However, I didn't like that I was constantly challenged to explain myself. Why get into painting when there were so many other 'artistic' endeavours I could get into? Many relatives are musicians and singers, my own father was a wonderful singer and had enjoyed some success as an actor. He loved language, could quote many different poets and writers, simply because he loved the pictures their words created. But he was also self-taught, and I was too, as a painter for many years. And as a writer to some degree.

I had wanted to study art, but in my naivety I thought I'd be a shoe-in into the art college. Of course I got nowhere near the place, except as a visitor. But I liked languages, found them easy to learn. The actual university course was tough, however. You had to sit down, put your fingers in your ears, and concentrate. History, literature, contemporary trends. What made it interesting was the fact that the Iron Curtain was slowly crumbling, and cracks appearing in the political regime of the USSR. We had studied works by writers who had grown up in the shadow of the Wall, so we could easily imagine we felt their joy at the end of that era. And then later, when I was studying art and the critical context in which late 20th century art was created, I had the edge over my fellow students. I was familiar with the historical and social context. I had lived in Germany when this enormous change was taking place.

Nevertheless, enormous change is always taking place. In 1991 I underwent a personal change and went back to painting, ended a few friendships which had turned out to be shallow and one-sided, and made new friendships which have lasted. And I went and bought my first set of oil pastels, and tentatively started using them. My first piece I still have, I will never sell it, it's called This Rhythm. I was very proud to have finished a piece after 4 years of doing nothing but absent-minded doodles on the corners of papers I was supposed to be writing. I started an evening course in drawing and painting, and realised I wanted to concentrate on the human figure. So when I moved to the Netherlands a few years later, I found a place where I could do live-drawing with models of all shapes and sizes and it was great. I also did some portraiture, but that never really took with me. The body reveals more of the subject than the face, I feel.

I had an impressive body of work built up when I applied to study at art college as a mature student, so I went straight into the Painting Department. Bob Baker, the head of the Fine Art Department in Limerick Art College at the time, told me that I was two weeks late for the deadline to apply for Painting, but they gave me an interview anyway. I got in, and had to adjust to the fact that I was among people who were really, really good - hard, when you're used to being the one person in the room who is very good at drawing. It knocked any narcissistic tendencies I might have been developing on the head. I had to really focus and it was very difficult, but incredibly rewarding. I loved it and would do it again if I could.

So why do I paint? Because I can. And I love the challenge of it. And I still do the human figure. And other subjects too - no point in staying in your comfort zone.

Painting of a Skull Mask I made, acrylic on paper, from 2002. 

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