"JACK Yeats talked of "the living ginger" - the magic that made art come alive. JP Donleavy has it, and in a sparkling show at the Molesworth Gallery in Dublin, mainly of watercolours, he traces his artistic ancestry back more than half a century."
- Bruce Arnold from a review of the J.P. Donleavy art exhibition "Beastly Beasts, Birds, People & Places," Molesworth Gallery, Dublin. Independent IE, February 10, 2006
|Walton Gallery Exhibition, London. Photo courtesy Damien Matthews.|
|"Organic Shapes " - oils on board. Shown at the Molesworth Gallery Exhibition, Feb., 2006. Larger view|
PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER AS AN ARTIST
by Bill Dunn
Copyright © Bill Dunn 2007
"Self-portrait" - drawing, circa early '50s. Courtesy of the Lawrence Grobel collection.
author and playwright of The Ginger Man
and numerous other internationally-acclaimed works, began his public artistic
career in Dublin as a painter. While his first short story wasn’t
published until April 1950, J.P. by then had already had two one-man art
showings at 7, St. Stephen’s Green Gallery.
The first exhibition opened December 6, 1948.
Charging Into Battle
final hours of preparation for that momentous first exhibition, the artist
realized he did not have enough works to display. And so he returned to
his easel and began painting furiously to fill the gallery walls. Friend
Frank Tuffy, a World War II veteran and a POW captured in the Battle of
Alamein, and other Trinity pals ferried the still-wet paintings from Trinity
up busy Grafton Street to the gallery. J.P. remembers: “Frank, an
ex-Irish Guardsman, led them as if they were charging into battle.”
In a sense the artist was the one charging into battle.
on the inside pages in black ink are 21 watercolors and paintings. Prices
ranged from 3 guineas for “The Pottery Makers” to 35 guineas
for “Moon and Midlands”. The catalogue contains neither essay
nor artist biography. The back page is blank.
It Doesn’t Stink, It’s Horace
out his first attempts at fiction on a manual typewriter in the same Trinity
rooms that served as his art studio. Fellow Trinity student Arthur
Kenneth Donoghue, the brilliant and blunt iconoclast from Harvard, would
wander into No. 38, scan J.P.’s efforts, and report: “It stinks.”
After this happened several times, J.P. got his revenge by typing up a translation
of Horace and leaving it in the typewriter. Next time A.K. dropped by, the
Latin and Greek scholar looked over the manuscript and concluded: “It
at Trinity College, Dublin.
Photo courtesy of The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
|JPD's mother-in-law, a patron of the arts, purchased several of his early works. Photo courtesy The J.P. Donleavy Archives.|
Catalogue inside. Photo courtesy The J.P. Donleavy Archives. Larger View.
|Invitation for March 1950 exhibition. Photo courtesy The J.P. Donleavy Archive. Larger View.|
|Catalogue cover of JPD's second show at St. Stephen's Green, March 1950. Cover art courtesy of Bill Dunn from The J.P. Donleavy Archives. Larger view.|
inside in black ink are 38 works, including two sculptures not for sale,
as they were on loan from Harvard grad and Trinity friend Douglas Wilson.
The watercolors were all priced at 3 guineas. Oils ranged from 4 guineas
(“Fish And His Yellow Eye”) to 50 guineas (“Spring”).
By then, the painter had left Trinity College without degree after three
years and married Valerie Heron, which he would explain in the catalogue
of his next show. He had committed himself to his art – painting as
well as writing.
The month after the
second exhibition, J.P.’s first published story appeared in John
Ryan’s Dublin quarterly Envoy: A Review of Literature &
Art. A patron of the Dublin art scene, Ryan was himself a painter
who also encouraged J.P.’s efforts at the easel. The story, “Party
On Saturday Night”, was inspired by an incident in A. K. Donoghue’s
childhood when he was turned away from a birthday party of a black friend
because he was white. Unlike J.P.’s later writing, the story is
a traditional narrative, written according to the conventional rules of
grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Art and Artifice
At one exhibition,
a lady of delicate sensibilities was so upset by some of paintings she
took her rolled umbrella and commenced raining blows with it upon the
skulls and shoulders of Anthony Cronin, Gainor Crist, and Tony McInerney,
three friends of the artist who were helping out at the reception desk
while the painter fortified himself at a nearby pub. A photo in J.P.
Donleavy’s Ireland captures the smartly dressed and smiling
trio, looking uninjured and apparently enjoying themselves.
Ussher for the Defense
Among the first was
Arland Ussher, Irish philosopher, art critic, and Gaelic scholar. In response
to unfavorable comments in The Irish Times regarding J.P.’s
artwork, Ussher wrote a letter to the editor, observing in part: “I
was at once struck by his delicate and sensitive line – a little
reminiscent of Paul Klee, though he does not seem to have been greatly
influenced by Klee, or, indeed, by anyone else. Anyone who buys one of
these drawings at the catalogue price will be getting a bargain. Some
of his oil-paintings I thought, on the whole, less successful, though
most of them had fine passages of color, and an almost frightening vitality
and sincerity. … ”
A Style of His Own
His painting style
remains his own, unschooled yet subtle and skilled. He uses a unique method.
His oils, while still favoring darker colors, are effectively applied
in swirling, layered strokes that create still-lifes and portraits at
once engaging, accessible yet moody, mysterious, prompting the viewer
to wonder about the place or person captured on the canvas.
Arguably the artist’s
most productive – and briefest – period of painting came at
Christmastime (circa 1950) at Kilcoole when he and his wife sent out Christmas
cards to friends.
Since his early Dublin
exhibitions, the painter emerged as an international author and playwright
with the 1955 publication of The Ginger
Man and the 1959 stage productions of The
Ginger Man, followed by a prodigious output of successful books
Coming to America
His fifth exhibition,
and the only one to date in America, was held in Westchester County, New
York at the Bronxville Public Library, February 2-28, 1959. This exhibit
was preceded the previous month by the Retrospective Exhibition of the
paintings, sculpture, and ceramics of his younger brother T.J. Donleavy.
J.P. achieved an artistic
breakthrough with the exhibition at London’s Langton Gallery, September
30-October 14, 1975. Langton was the first Donleavy exhibition in a leading
international arts center and the first in London, where his paintings
had been dismissed in the early 1950s when he sought galleries there to
handle his work. The exhibition was an acknowledgment of the artist’s
complementary careers as painter and writer.
Exhibiting More More Often More Places
exhibition – more than a decade later and back in Dublin –
was at the Godolphin Art Gallery, November
1986. But other exhibitions followed more quickly than previous decades.
And where the earliest shows were produced by the painter himself, the
later shows were proposed, organized, hung, and promoted by gallery owners
or art dealers, who sought out the painter.
The next show at the
Anna-Mei Chadwick Galleries, March
5-16, 1991, was a joint exhibition with daughter Karen Donleavy, who
displayed her appealing and very popular pottery with painted designs
of cats and dogs. Karen’s name appears just below her father’s
on the front of the program. The illustration is J.P.’s “Anaconda”
– a rainbow-colored snake with intricate designs along its skin,
wrapped around itself like a pretzel, keeping a sharp eye focused, its
jaws opened and split tongue extended.
Several of J.P.’s
works were knocked down for impressive prices at
Whyte’s Irish Art Auction, October 10, 2000, held at the Royal
Dublin Society (RDS) Centre, Dublin.
by the London exhibition, Damien Matthews Fine Art organized and presented
a retrospective at the Molesworth
Gallery, February 7-20, 2006. It was J.P. 15th exhibition and 7th
in Dublin. In all, there were 11 oils and 76 watercolors and drawings
on display, created from the late 1940s to recent years.
In the lower right
corner, a grinning clerical-looking fellow, dressed in black, stands in
wait, walking stick in one hand, and a clothes iron held back in his other
as if poised to strike some beast, bird, or personage.
A Gathering of Friends and Admirers
exhibition proved a success in every respect. The show attracted collectors
who began arriving during setup and the press preview. They came to add
to their Donleavy collections. Opening night drew a shoulder-to-shoulder
In the Long Tradition of Writer as Artist
The show was formally and enthusiastically opened by Enrique Jancusa, director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. He said in part:
The Living Ginger
Where press attention
in the old days was local and often reflexively critical, media attention
in this Internet age was informed, balanced, and generally appreciative, re-introducing
J.P. Donleavy the painter to an international audience virtually overnight
with coverage by The New York Times, The International Herald
Tribune, Irish newspapers, radio and television, and the English
press. Bruce Arnold, dean of Ireland’s art reviewers and biographer
of Jack Yeats, wrote in part in his review in The Irish Independent:
“Jack Yeats talked of ‘the living ginger’ – the magic
that made art come alive. J.P. Donleavy has it.”
painting in the Molesworth exhibition not by J.P. – yet prominently
displayed – was an oil portrait by Robert Ballagh. The portrait, measuring
28x36 inches, purchased by an anonymous collector has been donated to the
Irish National Portrait Gallery.
JPD and sculpture at St.Stephen's Green exhibition.
Photo courtesy of The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
JPD's first publication in Envoy, April, 1950. Cover art courtesy of Robert A. Mitchell.
JPD paints in his studio in Kilcoole. Photo courtesy of The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
|Cover of JPD's St. Stephen's Green show, Jan. 1951. Cover art courtesy of Bill Dunn.|
"Balloons" by JPD, watercolor and ink. Photo courtesy of The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
"Impressions of Wilde"- portrait in oils. Photo courtesy of The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
"Beastly Beatitude" - watercolor. Photo courtesy The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
True first edition of The Ginger Man, The Olympia Press, Paris 1955. Cover art courtesy of Robert A. Mitchell.
First US unexpurgated edition, Delacorte Press, 1965. Cover art courtesy of Robert A. Mitchell.
First UK edition, Wildwood House. Cover art courtesy of Robert A. Mitchell.
Godolphin Gallery Catalog Cover for JPD show. Cover art courtesy of Robert A. Mitchell.
Invitation to the 1989 Anna-Mei Chadwick Galleries exhibition.
Front cover of the Anna-Mei Chadwick '89 show. Photo courtesy The J.P. Donleavy Archives.
Cover of the Anna-Mei Chadwick Gallery JPD show, June, 1994. Cover art courtesy of Bill Dunn.
|JPD opening night at the Walton Gallery show, London 2002. Photo courtesy of Damien Matthews.|
Front cover of the Walton Gallery Exhibit catalog, March-April, 2002
Front cover of the Molesworth Gallery show catalog, February, 2006.
"The Embroiderer" - watercolor and ink. From the Walton exhibition.
Opening night reception invitation.
Courtesy of Damien Matthews.
"Nude" - watercolor from Molesworth exhibition.
Samuel Beckett - watercolor and ink.
Irish Museum of Modern Art.
Portrait of JPD in oils by Robert Ballagh. Signed printed were available at the show.
Home | About This Site | News - Miscellaneous | Donleavy - Bio Info | Donleavy - Author | Donleavy - Playwright
| Donleavy - Artist | Donleavy - Sportsman | Donleavy Farmer | JPD - Anthologies | JPD in Periodicals |
JPD - Intros - Blurbs | Book Reviews | Play Reviews | Video | Audio | Works In Progress | Interviews | Articles |
JPD & Academia | JPD Buyers' Guide | JPD-Related Links | Contact the JPDC