Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside
During Covid lockdown with restrictions on travel I have been fortunate to enjoy the benefit of living and painting en plein air in the lovely coastal village of Rosslare Strand with its interesting beach and some visual interest in the village itself - little corners, some interesting seaside buildings, upward and elevated viewpoints.
The beach or strand is always attractive to paint and the changing Irish light and weather gives it endless variety. It has a number of landmarks - anchor points such as a stand of cedar trees, several stone or wooden groynes, grassy dunes and a few hilltop buildings to interrupt the potential flatness of sand, sea and sky. It is punctuated by the distant ferry port at its southern end and by faraway blue hills to the north.
Even without these features, the Irish coastal sky is rarely plain azure, being most often populated with spectacular cloud formations as inspiring as a snowy alpine landscape and prone to change in minutes. The village, too, is changing rapidly, resulting in some places of character and charm being lost to redevelopment and it seems I am inadvertently documenting many changes, even in the short time I have been painting here.
In Darkness Burns the Brightest Candle
This painting was made to convey a sense of Hope - intending partly to reflect the current times everyone is enduring with Covid-19 and the series of lockdowns we have had.and partly because it is intended specifically for Wexford's new Rape Crisis Centre. Not only is it a worthwhile and sadly, very necessary facility, but also it is a project close to the heart of some dear friends who have given a great deal of time and a lot of hard work to see it become a reality with a fine new premises in Wexford Town.
I am very happy to know it will be hanging there and to think perhaps someone waiting a moment to see a counsellor or having a few minutes to themselves while going through a tough time will get some comfort from it. Possibly, just knowing
that someone has gone to the trouble to hang a painting - any painting - to decorate the room will be a comfort to someone whose self-esteem has taken a tumble. I hope so. A lot of artists in 2020 generously contributed portraits of front-line health workers and other projects to the national cause while I just couldn't find the motivation, so I am glad, finally, to have done something.
The painting is based on a composite of a few different references collected over a long time of women in native dress. Apart from the very colourful fabrics, there always seems to be a timeless quality to Asian or African costumes making them more appealing to paint. Am I just showing my ignorance of their shifts in fashion? Be that as it may, it allowed the focus to be on the face and hands with the rest of the painting being sketched in simply. The original dark background did not help the inherent symmetry of the composition, which the foggy swirls help to disturb, at the same time adding to the painting depth and a cinematic look. 'In Darkness Burns the Brightest Candle', Oil, 40" x 30". January 2021.
Portrait of Billy Roche
Here is my portrait of author and playwright, actor and musician, Billy Roche. Billy is one of a clutch of successful Wexford writers with a string of plays, books and songs to his name. I have known him for many years, since I first settled in Ireland and I was working at Wexford Arts Centre when Bill's first play was produced there. I think even made the poster for it.
What an honour and pleasure then, to be commissioned to paint his portrait in his 70th birthday year to hang in the Art Centre's permanent collection. It was especially enjoyable to spend several hours in Billy's company and there could surely be no more patient and agreeable sitter. The Arts centre is currently undergoing a major redevelopment and I can't wait to seeing my painting hanging there once it is completed.
Just a comment on the background to the portrait; often a plain background is simplest and most effective to set the portrait in strong relief. However, in this case, I felt it was important to suggest something of Billy Roche's work as a wonderful storyteller, so a high vantage point over Wexford is chosen. Wexford is often the implied location of Billy's plays and novels so the quayside and the Ballast Bank are included. It is a nocturnal setting when the climax often occurs and I took the risk of including a person or a couple under somewhat theatrical street lighting to give a sense of a narrative taking place, without intending to relate to any specific scene or play.
2-Day Course at National Gallery of Ireland
Inspired by the 2019 major exhibition, 'Sorolla, Spanish Master of Light' I will be giving a two day course in painting en plein air ij and around Merrion Square Gardens. The course is chiefly a practical introduction to painting outdoors and techniques to use for painting effectively and decisively. But the course also includes a tour of the exhibition, looking at selected highlights and discussing some of the techniques and achievements of Joaquin Sorolla whose work is rarely seen in Irish or UK galleries but is held in high regard by many contemporary outdoor painters.
Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019
In May, i will be returning to Florida's Gulf Coast to paint in 'The Forgotten Coast en Plein Air 2019'. This event is organised as a cultural and environmental enterprise raising funds and awareness of a spectacular but fragile eco-system and a disappearing way of life. Last year I had great fun painting this beautiful landscape alongside some renowned artists and am honoured to be invited to participate a second time. .
The Gulf Coast suffered terrible damage on 10th october 2018 when category IV Hurricane Michael made landfall. It took a terrible toll in lives and destruction. So it is with feelings of anticipation at the changes I will undoubtedly find and a sense of responsibility to make this a very successful trip that I go back this year. Great credit is due to the organisers of FCePA, who all live in the area and will have overcome many setbacks and challenges to help themselves and their neighbours to get back in the saddle. That they are forging ahead without interruption with this wonderful painting event shows what it means to them. They are remarkable people and I am looking forward to seeing them again.
4 Day Portrait Workshop
From 19th - 22nd November I will be teaching a group 'Alla Prima Portrait Painting' at the lovely Artform Studio in Dunmore East, on the coast, close to Waterford. Alla Prima just means 'in one layer', in other words, without elaborate underpainting and without laying glazes on top. These will be quite short studies, possibly two per day. I usually think of them as 'oil sketches', rather than 'portraits', with emphasis on catching a likeness and decisive brushwork.
The 37 Diesel
During Paint Out Norwich' in October I painted this view along one of the platforms at Norwich Station. I am no train-spotter (although wearing an anorak) but standing unobtrusively by a kiosk I was engaged by several who told me enthusiastically that the train in my painting was a British Rail Class 37 diesel.
Not much the wiser, I Wiki'd it:
"Class 37s are known to railway enthusiasts as "Tractors" due to the agricultural sound of the diesel engine of the locomotive. Despite all being over 50 years old, over 60 locomotives are still mainline registered and remain active undertaking a variety of passenger, freight and departmental duties on the national rail network in 2018". So, mystery solved.
I enjoyed painting it and thank Greater Anglia Railway staff who were very accommodating when it was easier to say 'move on'. Credit due.
Paint Out Norwich 2018
'Paint Out Norwich' takes place every October and it is the highlight of a series of plein air events in East Anglia and the Broads, an area famous in English landscape painting. This year I was honoured to be invited to demonstrate and be part of the judging panel. Fellow judges were.Dr Giorgia Bottinelli, curator of historic art at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and Sarah Flynn, Associate Director of Fine Art and Head of Paintings at Cheffins Auctioneers of Cambridge. Selector for the event was David Curtis (Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Society of Marine Artists).
The 20th Noordwijk Schilderfestival
2018 marks the 20th year of the largest plein air festival in Netherlands, Noordwijk Schilderfestival. Like Skagen in Denmark and Trouville in Normandy, Noordwijk attracted artists at the end of the 19th century, seeking the glowing light, simplicity and quietude of the coast. In Noordwijk, the most famous of these visitors was Max Liebermann and gradually a small colony of artists gravitated there.
Today, this history is commemorated by Noordwijk Schilderfestival and this year, winners of the annual 'Rembrandt Award' were invited to attend and as winner in 2014, I was glad to renew acquaintance with many friends. The festival is energetic, hard working, welcoming and challenging and deserves the consistent success it has enjoyed.
I was delighted this painting was selected for the 188th Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Summer Exhibition in Dublin. It is a portrait of distinguished Irish artist, Mick Mulcahy. Mick agreed to sit for an informal portrait and I thought it would be interesting if he would include something of his own in the painting. In a few minutes, one of his iconic heads in pink and purple was painted. Mick's penetrating stare was, initially, what I set out to capture in the portrait.
Forgotten Coast 2018
I am delighted to be invited to join in the 13th Forgotten Coast en Plein Air event on the Gulf of Mexico coast of western Florida where I will be honoured to rmeet some of my painting heroes. This 10 day festival in May sets out to highlight aspects of a beautiful and unique environment and a way of life in danger of slipping away. This year, the theme will be the built environment. Of course, I am looking forward to having great fun, doing loads of painting and learning from artists whose work I have admired for a long time. But it is also marvellous, to hopefully be able to contribute something to an important cause. I will do my best to learn how one of the major plein air events in the USA is run so successfully and to forge some new links with Ireland's Art in the Open.
In January 2018, after several months without any life drawing I took the plunge on a lease to a large studio space which was formerly a grain store at the Old Mill, Castlebridge. The aim is to host a life-drawing group on Wednesday evenings and there is also a Portrait Club with clothed models on Thursday mornings. So far, so good. Occasionally, I hope there will be all-day painting sessions with the model as well as weekend workshops with guest artists such as Eileen Healy, Ned Mueller, Dave West and others. See the Castlebridge Art Studio link for details if interested in joining us as artists, tutors or models.
29 July - 6 August
Ireland's 11th international plein air painting festival with 200 artists over a 9 days returns for over a week of creativity. Popular with Americans and Europeans alike, this is a special event in Ireland's cultural calendar.
Paint Annapolis Plein Air Event: 4 -11 June 2017
I was honoured to have been selected by artist and author Al Gury to take part in Paint Annapolis alongside 29 other artists on the shores of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland USA. It was also special to win a major prize at the event for Best Painting featuring Chesapeake Bay.