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
‘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.