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John the Painter at the Irish Museum of Modern Art

The first exhibition by a native Outsider artist in an Irish national cultural institution opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on 12 February 2003. John the Painter presents 35 paintings and drawings by this little-known Cork artist who has spent most of his adult life in care. The exhibition includes one of his most striking works Jet Plane, Blue, Red, Yellow, Green, Boxes, Arrows on Grand Parade, Chinese Version, which has been donated to the Museum, which already holds a major collection of Outsider art in the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Archive.

John the Painter (so named because of the need to respect his privacy) has been in care since the 1960s, living in a communal and often difficult environment for most of his adult life. Art has given him a means to explore his own feelings and thoughts about that life, surprisingly creating a body of artwork that is exuberantly colourful and celebratory.
When he was in hospital, a nurse, Sheila Holland, invited Cork Community Artlink to work with the patients. The exhibition includes the first canvas John painted while working with Artlink, a very dark self-portrait standing beside a brightly lit Christmas Tree with a fantastic toy train - a Christmas remembered, or a fantasy?
Much of John’s work is autobiographical, showing vivid memories of Cork in the 1960s before he went into hospital. Paintings of his early life, when he worked as a messenger boy, show backdrops of the buildings and pubs of Cork featuring the local Murphy’s Brewery signage, the Father Matthew Statue and Saint Finbarr’s Cathedral.
He began work on sheets of paper and card, but quickly grew to painting on old sheets supplied by Artlink and the hospital to satisfy his need for bigger canvases. When presented with a blank canvas, he goes to it immediately, with a clear sense of what he wants to do. His confident approach to composition and colour is envied by mainstream artists who have seen his work.
Works chosen for this exhibition cover themes such as the launch of the Titantic, a tale that lives in the folk memory of Cork, and the landscape of Cork in the ‘60s including the Father Matthew Statue, a symbol of the Pioneer Movement in Cork, justaposed with the Mangan Clock, a meeting place for courting couples.
The exhibition, a collaborative project between IMMA’s Collection and Education and Community Departments is co-curated by Catherine Marshall, Head of the Collection, and Helen O’Donoghue, Head of Education and Community Programmes.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue with essays by Catherine Marshall and Helen O’Donoghue, as well as a text by William Frodé de la Foret, the artist from Cork Community Artlink, who has worked most closely with John over the past decade.
Commenting on the exhibition Catherine Marshall said: “It is appropriate that John the Painter’s work will be hung in the room where we have just shown the Táin Tapestries by Louis le Brocquy – Ireland’s best known artist followed by Ireland’s least known artist. We think John the Painter is an important painter. He is proof that the tradition of painting is alive and well in Ireland, and can be discovered in unexpected places.”
The Irish Museum of Modern Art has had an interest in the work of Outsider artists since 1998, when it was given a spectacular collection of work by the Musgrave Kinley Collection of Outsider Art. Outsider artists are self-taught artists who make art as their only viable means of self expression. They are often marginalized through mental ill-health or through social disadvantage.
John the Painter continues until 8 June 2003.

Admission is free.
Opening hours: Tue - Sat 10.00am - 5.30pm

Sun, Bank Holidays 12 noon - 5.30pm
Mondays, 18 April Closed
For further information and colour and black and white images please contact Monica Cullinane at Tel : +353 1 612 9900, Fax : +353 1 612 9999 Email : press@modernart.ie

6 February 2003

 

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