Painters’ im­pres­sive co-op­er­a­tive in Wicklow

RE­PORTER DAVID MEDCALF EX­PLORED THE WON­DERS OF THE ALADDIN’S CAVE OF A GALLERY WHICH IS KIL­MANTIN ARTS IN WICKLOW TOWN

Bray People - - INTERVIEW -

‘THIS is not your or­di­nary com­mer­cial gallery,’ ex­plains Ber­i­lyn Teel­ing as she stands sur­rounded from floor to ceil­ing by paint­ings of all sorts. This won­der­ful ex­plo­sion of colour at Bridge Street in Wicklow Town verges on the chaotic with a wild va­ri­ety of styles on show and a great num­ber of works. ‘We are a co-op­er­a­tive of artists. It is run by artists, for artists.’

Moves to set up the co-op be­gan in 1999 when the founder mem­bers were look­ing for a place to ex­hibit. They held a meet­ing in the Grand Ho­tel to dis­cuss the project and the re­sult was that the first Kil­mantin Arts shop opened in the year 2000. At the start, the painters were the only ones man­ning the tills but these days cus­tomers are just as likely to be served by as­sis­tants taken on un­der a com­mu­nity em­ploy­ment scheme. There are more than 50 artists on the books at the mo­ment, most of them painters but with a scat­ter­ing of pho­tog­ra­phers and crafts­folk.

Ber­i­lyn has al­most by ac­ci­dent as­sumed the role of man­ager at this most un-sniffy of gal­leries where ev­ery­one is wel­come to come and en­joy the work jostling for at­ten­tion on the walls. She ad­mits that she does not paint at all, though her hus­band Robert is a very ac­com­plished artist who makes a liv­ing from his tal­ent. The cou­ple are South African and ar­rived in Ire­land in 2010 seek­ing a place to raise their son with­out be­ing con­stantly con­cerned about his safety. On ar­rival in Wicklow, they promptly join­ing the co-op event as his work ex­panded from show­ing lions on the African plains to il­lus­trat­ing the lo­cal mas­ter of the hunt in Wicklow. ‘We do en­joy Ire­land and there is a mys­ti­cal qual­ity to the light here - though the weather takes a bit of get­ting used to,’ muses Ber­i­lyn. The shop is al­ways a con­ge­nial place to visit for any­one who en­joys art, with its riot of dif­fer­ent styles on dis­play. Lo­cal beauty spots reg­u­larly fea­tured are blue­bell woods, the light house, the Black Cas­tle and Kil­macur­ragh, while an­i­mals are also pop­u­lar with buy­ers. ‘Peo­ple love cows,’ notes Ber­i­lyn, with a note of puz­zle­ment in her voice, ‘ blue cows as well as brown cows.’ Alice Hay­man is one ex­hibitor who takes lib­er­ties with colour, not so much in bovine live­stock as in scenery, in­vest­ing The Mur­rough with Hawai­ian vivid­ness. Oth­ers pre­fer to ex­hibit por­traits or still lifes of cup cakes As the tourist sea­son picks up, vis­i­tors often call in to buy a unique sou­venir of their hol­i­day in Wicklow. Fam­i­lies with rel­a­tives abroad fre­quently look for lo­cal land­scapes to dis­patch over­seas to their loved ones, fur­ther adding to the num­ber of Kil­mantin Arts can­vasses scat­tered all around the world. The sales team have no­ticed that some­times a customer will be­gin collecting thecole out­put of a favoured artist. One de­voted fol­low­err of Siob­han Turner has snapped up eleven of her im­mac­u­late wa­ter colours in the past few months. ‘It is a lovely place to work,’ re­marks sa­less as­sis­tant Shirley Reid. ‘Ev­ery­one here is happy to help ev­ery­one else.’ She is often joined by Ted Veal, now in his nineties, and a founder mem­ber of the en­ter­prise. Prices for orig­i­nal art­work in Kil­mantin Arts range from €25 up to €425. David Medcalf spoke to some of the painterss be­hind Kil­mantin Arts: Frances Ho­gan makes it clear that she is not a full time artist and that paint­ing is a hobby for her.r. In­stead she de­scribes her­self as a re­tired med­i­call lab­o­ra­tory sci­en­tist who finds that gar­den­ing andd be­ing a grand­mother also com­pete for her time.. She is one of sev­eral mem­bers of the Kil­mantin Arts co-op­er­a­tive who were given a ground­ing in how to cre­ate a paint­ing by the late Liam Treacy.y. He put on a se­ries of night classes at the old ‘Tech’’ in Wicklow and his mem­ory en­dures through the en­thu­si­asm of his pupils. As they be­gan to turn out paint­ings, they were ea­ger to find an out­let for their work, stag­ing ex­hi­bi­tions in the golf club and in coun­cil of­fices. How­ever, they needed a per­ma­nent home so the lit­tle co-op’s lit­tle gallery was per­fectly suited to their needs. ‘I sold two paint­ings the week­end be­fore last,’ Frances Ho­gan re­veals Frances who puts most of her energy into views of Kil­macur­ragh, the har­bour and the likes. ‘Lo­cal land­scapes are what sell,’ she says frankly, adding that she could not af­ford the up to 60 per cent com­mis­sion charged by com­mer­cial art gal­leries. Kil­mantin’s 15 per cent cut is fine with her.

Miriam Melia is the envy of her artis­tic col-

leagues be­cause she has a large and lovely con­ser­va­to­ry­a­tory at her Wicklow home­home. While oth­ers might be con­tent to sit and read a book in such a space, she finds it the per­fect place in which to paint.

And she is happy for friends to call around once a week and join her there with their pal­ettes and easels for a group ses­sion. As a re­sult many of the paint­ings on show in the Kil­mantin Arts gallery have been worked in in Miriam’s con­ser­va­tory.

An­other grad­u­ate of Liam Treacy’s night classes, Miriam has been paint­ing now for a quar­ter of a cen­tury, turn­ing out charm­ing land­scapes and sea views in oils. She is so pro­lific that she is charged dou­ble the stan­dard rent at the shop in Bridge Street where six of her works were snapped up by dis­cern­ing Christ­mas buy­ers.

‘Kil­mantin Arts is great,’ in­sists this hard worki­ing founder mem­ber: ‘We have nowhere else to ssell our paint­ings.’

While many artists make an ef­fort to ad­ver­tise aand mar­ket their wares on the in­ter­net, Miriam de­scribes her­self as com­puter il­lit­er­ate. Though she has no web­site of her own, she and all the con­trib­u­tors are fea­tured on the Kil­mantin Arts site kil­manti­narts.com.

Fin­tan Clarke freely con­cedes that he is not the most con­sis­tent of painters, work­ing in fits and starts. He has been known to dab­ble in ab­stract style but is more at home these days turn­ing out the land­scapes which are the typ­i­cal sub­ject matt­ter of the Kil­mantin crew. ‘I don’t have a stu­dio,’ ssays Fin­tan. ‘Some­times I have sat out in a ditch paint­ing – it de­pends on the weather.’

The more he ma­tures, the more he de­fies the stereo­type of the artists strug­gling alone in his at­tic at his ease.

He prefers to paint in the com­pany of oth­ers , very much in keep­ing with the spirit of co-op­er­a­tion em­bod­ied in Kil­mantin Arts, with which he has been as­so­ci­ated from the start.

‘A few years ago, when the Celtic Tiger was rag­ing, it was no bother sell­ing paint­ings,’ he gives his analysis of the lo­cal art mar­ket. ‘Then de­mand dried up but we had a very good run up to Christ­mas.’

The pick-up is re­flected in in­creased mem­ber­ship of the arts co-op which is back around the 60 mark.

He is de­lighted to help out in the shop when called upon, though it was hard work dur­ing the fes­tive pe­riod when de­mand was so stiff at times that he hardly had time to draw breath.

Robert Teel­ing shares with Derek Lyons of Gle­nealy (who frames as well as paints) the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing a full-time artist in the Kil­mantin group.

Most of the oth­ers do not de­pend com­pletely on paint­ing for their in­come, though many are very good at what they do and very pop­u­lar with the art buy­ing pub­lic.

Robert first made his mark with paint­ings of African wildlife and he con­tin­ues to pro­duce a few lions, an­telopes and the likes in the room which he con­verted to a small stu­dio the fam­ily home in Wicklow. How­ever, though there are tak­ers for them in the neigh­bour­hood, these days he calls Ir­ish scenes his bread and but­ter.

One as­pect of his pro­fes­sional life that has changed com­pletely is be­ing able to show work for a low rent at a venue which deducts just 15 per cent from the sale price.

There is no such art co-op­er­a­tive in his na­tive South Africa as far as he knows, com­ing from a scene where pri­vate gallery own­ers often pocket 50 per cent of the price.

‘The beauty of the co-op­er­a­tive is that we are mas­ters of our own des­tiny and there is a great di­ver­sity on dis­play.’ He par­tic­u­larly likes the idea that mem­bers have the op­por­tu­nity to take over the shop win­dow in Bridge Street one by one, each in turn rais­ing their in­di­vid­ual pro­file.

ABOVE: Paint­ings at Kil­mantin Arts. TOP: Ber­i­lyn Teel­ing, man­ager at Kil­mantin Arts.

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