AN extraordinary journey is continuing for artist Jerry Sheahan, who at 89, saw his first solo art exhibition open in Newcastle West library last week.
And he has given the title “A True Irish Man” to the collection of 26 paintings which make up the exhibition – which reflect his work from when he first took up painting just four short years ago.
Jerry’s early life, however, gave no hint of a late flowering as an artist. He was born in Tournafulla in 1923 and his first steps into the world of work began at the age of 14 when he went to work for a neighbouring farmer, a very common practice at the time.
Three years later, Jerry left to seek adventure and opportunity and signed up with the Irish Army. He served with distinction, serving terms with UN peacekeeping forces in the Belgian Congo and in Cyprus, before returning home to, as he says, “live amongst his own”.
In 2005, as a result of a bout of ill-health, Jerry came to reside in St Ita’s Hospital in Newcastle West – and it was there, in 2008, that he first came to painting.
Initially, Jerry admits, he was not comfortable with painting as a form of expression. But under the guidance of artist Lisa O’Sullivan, he quickly overcame that – and developed his own, very distinctive style and technique. His work, Lisa explains, involves creating still lifes in an abstract style and the exhibition shows how that style and technique have evolved over the years.
“With growing confidence, he has found his own voice, drawing inspiration from his interest in Irish painting, literature, music and traditions,” Lisa says.
Jerry paints in oils, she explains and has a bold use of colour. The exhibition includes landscapes, seascapes and scenes from Irish rural life.
“My ambition,” Jerry says, “is to produce an oil painting of the church in Tournafulla, in appreciation of the people, past and present, and their Gaelic tradition of song and dance.” He likes to think of himelf, he adds, as a true Irish man.
The one-man show is being organised in collaboration with Age and Opportunity Ireland as part of the Bealtaine Festival which celebrates creativity as we age.
Be warned: the exhibition will only remain on display for a week.