Gerry O'Mahony

Artist who became fascinated by Bahá'í writings concerning the positive and negative effects of words

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Gerry O'Mahony

Born in ‘The Parish’ we moved to John Street when I was only about four years old.

I loved growing-up around there and made many lasting friendships. Over the years, I attended St John the Baptist primary school, Sexton St secondary school and finally Limerick School of Art [and Design] (LSAD), then on Mulgrave St. People seem to think that an artist’s life is easy, but it is very insecure. You have to create work, while never knowing when (or if) it will sell. In spite of this, if I was starting out all over again, I would choose the same path.

Growing-up, I had no interest in art at all but a friend of mine loved drawing war scenes, so I tried doing that, (didn’t like it much!).

I, also, did some art classes when I was about 10 years old at St Johns Boys Club, and nearly died of boredom. Luckily, when I was 16, I had to choose between Latin and Art for my Leaving Certificate. Even though, I actually loved Latin, after trying some of the painting classes I was hooked. After school, I was offered a place at the Crawford School of Art in Cork, but couldn’t afford to move there. Instead, I turned-up on the doorstep of LSAD and explained my situation to Jack Donovan. He looked at my portfolio and said ‘work away’. I loved every minute of my four years in Mulgrave Street, which was also one of the first locations for LSAD.

While in art school I concentrated on sculpture, but in recent years, I have mainly painted.

My earliest paintings were watercolour landscapes, but for the last number of years the work has become more abstract. A member of Contact Studios since 2005, being in a studio allows you to make larger pieces, so my practice has evolved from paper to board, using a mixture of watercolour, acrylic and other materials. I work almost every day beginning with a simple idea, intuition being a central part of the process. Like most things it develops through action. The core work is always the same, a search for my own reality. I tend to work by creating a series of paintings only stopping when I have fully exhausted all possibilities. This can be for a short or long period. Sometimes pieces take years to complete.

Art school was a very holistic experience.

As students you cover just about everything including painting, printmaking, craft and sculpture, as part of the Art Teacher’s Certificate (ATC) system. I really enjoyed this because it meant that I could try different things. These days, the emphasis in college is less about learning techniques. However, these can be learned, with time and effort. What is more important is the chance to explore different ways of working and to develop your own voice as an artist. This doesn’t always suit everyone. Some people prefer to journey on their own through life, and here the challenges are different.

After LSAD, I worked in various jobs whilst travelling.

Indeed, I saw the most amazing exhibition of Chinese Watercolours in Jerusalem, which totally mesmerised and enthralled me. I hadn’t used this medium much, but the exhibition inspired me to purchase a set of watercolours and to try and paint the Israeli landscape. After this, I spent some time in Malawi and found that the rich light and colours of that country had a direct impact upon my work. When I returned to Ireland, I joined All+10 Sorts, one of the early artist collectives in Limerick. My period with them greatly influenced my work. During these years, I also changed from a landscape-based practice to a more abstract style. Having a dedicated workspace allowed me to change the scale of my abstract work. Today, much of my inspiration comes directly from Bahá'í writings, and in particular, how words can have a positive or negative effect.

Sculpture was my first love, influenced and encouraged by Tom Fitzgerald and Terry Leahy at LSAD, but painting is my main mode of expression today.

I didn’t set out to be an artist, but the more I painted, the more I realised, that I had to do it, because I love it. The major influences on my career have been Chinese Watercolour Paintings, the Nineteenth Century Calligraphist Mishkin-Qalam, and the work of photographer Ansel Adams. As regards my exhibitions; ‘Keepers of Silence’ at ‘Draíocht’, in Blanchardstown, was based on the idea of light breaking through, even in the darkest of times. My latest exhibition, ‘Changing Shadows‘, at the Courthouse Gallery, in Ennistymon, was inspired by the life of an Iranian woman in the Nineteenth Century, who was a great advocate of women’s emancipation. My next installation will be a series of works that have progressed from ideas presented in my earlier exhibitions-the theme of both individual and societal development being paramount.

Limerick appears to be growing as an artistic centre, but needs to include more active involvement by those artists living and working here.

We have a strong and vibrant arts community, but since the year of culture, we have actually lost four distinct artist working spaces. A lot of great projects in Limerick City and County began from the ground-up, encouraged by various people including the former County Arts Officer Joan MacKernan, whom I have a great respect for. She was hugely valued by people, especially in the arts community of visual artists, poets, musicians, dancers and writers, and greatly missed since she retired. Joan successfully encouraged a visionary perspective, while being committed to the local community, (and the idea that art is for everyone). Surely, this is the best way forward!

-For more information about artist Gerry O’Mahony please see: gerryomahony.com