Philip Desmond

LSAD Students' Union president whose art explores the dark side of the human mind

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Philip Desmond

Philip Desmond artist who is exploring the dark side of the human mind

Born and bred in Limerick, I grew-up in Adare, having come originally from Croom.

I have been living in the City for the past few years working as an artist. I am, also, the current Student’s Union President at Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD).

I have always been creative, even in Montessori and Play School, but, Second-level education took me on a ride to hell and back.

I wasn’t a model student, by any means, and increasingly I found myself getting into a lot of trouble over the years. I was getting notes, detentions, and phone calls home, my parents’ called in, and eventually suspended. I was trouble (and troubled) both bully and bullied. However, I can honestly say now, that I suffered severe mental health problems. I didn’t know it then, and neither did anyone else, except a few, who always saw something in me. Coincidently, things started to get better for me the year that I started back into Leaving Certificate art classes at Ardscoil Rís. Along with the help of family, friends, and a number of staff, such as my art teacher, Daniel Harrison, I soon realised who I was, and what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to make art and I wanted to make a point.

Things were never that straight forward for me.

I made the tough decision not to take art as a Junior Certificate subject after I suffered third degree burns to my left hand. Although, by Fifth Year my hand had healed, I realised that all I had done for three years was to draw on my school books, to the point where I couldn’t read half of the pages. I approached Mr Harrison in the art room one evening and asked him: ‘Would you take me as a student for the Leaving Cert?’ His swift response was: ‘Can you draw?’ My nervous reply being: ‘I don’t know’. With that he took me under his wing and for the following two years I started to become the person that I am today. Just before Christmas, in Sixth Year, Mr Harrison asked me was I going to apply for Art College. I had never heard of such a thing, but straight away, I said ‘yes’ and over the next two months I prepared a portfolio, which I took to Limerick College of Further Education. In September of 2011, I enrolled in Art and Design with Graphic Design and began to enjoy myself. Here, Pat Normoyle, helped build-up my love for traditional and contemporary Printmaking. The following year, I applied and was accepted into LSAD, where I decided to study Fine Art Printmaking and Contemporary Practice.

Third Level Education is tough, and I quietly started to suffer again, but those around me, such as my enthusiastic tutors, pushed me through.

In fact, I found new ways to deal with my mental health. For example, I now used my art to speak out. That is what shaped one of the biggest and most memorable pieces of work that I have ever made. Every June, as the Fourth Years prepare for their ‘final assessment’, each student about to graduate must also prepare for ‘the degree show’. At this time, the entire college basically becomes one giant exhibition space showing-off the work of almost 200 Artists. For some, it is their first exhibition. It is an amazing day, with family and friends there, as well as the public. It is open to everyone with almost all of the work being for sale.

At this stage my passion revolved around using my art to speak about social taboos and social issues, as much as it being a personal expression.

Mental health in Ireland was what I wanted to comment on in my degree show piece. So I started looking back at my own past and researching young male mental health issues, as well as suicide and self-harm. The statistics I found were upsetting and shocking, but I wanted to talk about it, and I wanted others to talk about it also. This discussion piece, which was a great success for me, was entitled, ‘Private’. I gave it that title, because it was the first time that I really started to talk about my mental health. It is something that we all, at some time or another, keep private about. The resulting installation was located in a dark room with mixed media screen prints of dark figures and some script. In addition, lights located inside open ended bottles lit-up the following sentence appearing on the floor: ‘102,000, reported incidents of self-harm in Ireland, 27 incidents a day, 1+ every hour, every day, every year, for 10 years’.

Everybody who knows me can tell you how much I love LSAD and its people, (both past and present).

Preparing for my own degree show I, also, ran for the post of Student’s Union President, and I am now half-way through my term. The Union has been an incredible experience, and although tough at times, I love every minute of it. LSAD is housed in an amazing building, which ironically shares a dark history. Today, however, it houses a beautiful community of students and staff, and there is always something happening around. Indeed, I get to work with people whom I love like my family, in a spirit of individuality and camaraderie that would cheer anyone up. I intend to keep-up the good fight for as long as I can, both in student politics, and also in my art practice. In wanting change for the better, through what I do and in what I make, I suppose this makes me an activist!

To contact Philip Desmond please phone: 083-1522307 or email: lsad.students.union@gmail.com