Noel uses needles to bring his art to life

RE­PORTER DAVID MED­CALF WATCHED FAS­CI­NATED AS AVOCA RES­I­DENT NOEL FAL­LON SHOWED HOW HE HAS CON­QUERED TREMBLING HANDS TO CRE­ATE AT­TRAC­TIVE PAINT­INGS US­ING SY­RINGES AND SPONGES IN­STEAD OF CON­VEN­TIONAL BRUSHES

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - INTERVIEW -

NOEL Fal­lon has never been to art col­lege. He has never staged glitzy ex­hi­bi­tions in snazzy galleries or hob-nobbed with crit­ics and well­heeled col­lec­tors.

But just at the mo­ment, the 68 year old seems to have paint or paint­ings just about ev­ery­where in his home at the heart of Avoca vil­lage.

Though he may come lately to the busi­ness, he has not quite given up hope that a hobby he en­joys ev­ery day could be­come a bit of an earner into old age. A cou­ple of his works – one of them a brightly coloured par­rot – have re­cently been on dis­play in a shop win­dow in Ark­low.

And he has been busy mass-pro­duc­ing im­ages of flow­ers for a spe­cial client, reel­ing off the can­vases with gusto and a smile. While he paints, the air is filled with the sound of Paul Si­mon singing ‘Me and Julio’ at high volume as the re­porter from the ‘Peo­ple’ knocks on the green door of his ter­raced house.

Neigh­bours know that Noel is busy at work pro­duc­ing new pieces when­ever the walls shake with the best of old-style pop mu­sic. He may have a cat­a­logue of health prob­lems – the list in­cludes angina, di­a­betes and a rare blad­der con­di­tion called pseu­domonas – but here is a man who does not be­lieve in be­ing idle.

This morn­ing he is ex­am­in­ing a cou­ple of his lat­est works with a view to maybe mak­ing a few fin­ish­ing im­prove­ments in the up­stairs room which has be­come his stu­dio. They both show a king­fisher in full flight in a style which bris­tles

with speed and in­ten­sity, paint­ings which sug­gest a well dis­ci­plined tal­ent.

As we look at the birds hurtling like ex­o­cets, he re­veals that these con­ven­tional yet in­di­vid­ual pic­tures are the prod­uct of a va­ri­ety of very un­con­ven­tional meth­ods.

‘I use sy­ringes be­cause I can­not use brushes to save my life,’ he re­veals. I can’t even but­ter a piece of toast.’ Old age pen­sioner Noel has the shakes. He knows not why. Un­less he rests them on the arms of his chair, his hands trem­ble in­ces­santly.

So he has to ma­noeu­vre his life around this dis­abil­ity with in­ge­nu­ity, in­vent­ing de­vices to help him cut bread, eat din­ner - or paint king­fish­ers.

It was not al­ways so. Noel was born in Dublin’s Pearse Street, the youngest in a large fam­ily of ten who moved to Crum­lin when he was a chap.

Fam­ily life pro­vided plenty of happy mem­o­ries, like ex­pe­di­tions to Bray un­der the com­mand of their mother with a mound of home-made sandwiches to feed her teem­ing brood.

Money was scarce, with noth­ing in her purse for toy wind­mills or the like, so the baby of the group worked out how to re­pair any dis­carded whirligigs they came across.

‘I said to my­self, I can fix that – and I have been do­ing it ever since,’ he smiles at the mem­ory. ‘If there isn’t a tool out there, then I will in­vent one.’

School­ing, how­ever, proved a trial. He hints at abuse and says he was badly beaten at the hands of Chris­tian Broth­ers: ‘I passed no ex­am­i­na­tions.’

He mar­ried young and moved with his wife to the bur­geon­ing sub­urb of Tal­laght, where the cou­ple resided with their two adopted chil­dren.

He had work as a crane driver for Dock­rell’s the hard­ware mer­chants and he was happy in that role, de­spite a cou­ple of ac­ci­dents.

The worst mishap was when a steel joist fell on him and he un­der­went back surgery while still a young man.

Then, in the eight­ies, a Green Card dropped through the let­ter-box in Tal­laght and the Fal­lons were all of a sud­den bound for the United States.

‘We sold up and went to Amer­ica,’ he re­mem­bers. ‘Then af­ter three months my wife went home to Ire­land and left me strug­gling with two chil­dren.’

He coped as a sin­gle dad for a while, with one in play school and one in pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, but even­tu­ally gave up the strug­gle and also re­turned

I SAID TO MY­SELF I CAN FIX THAT – AND I HAVE BEEN DO­ING IT EVER SINCE. IF THERE ISN’T A TOOL OUT THERE, THEN I WILL IN­VENT ONE.’

to Dublin.

As soon as he ar­rived, he lost the chil­dren to his es­tranged spouse and life de­gen­er­ated into a sham­bles of home­less­ness and a sep­a­ra­tion which was even­tu­ally for­malised as a divorce.

More than 30 years later, he re­mains grate­ful to Fo­cus for picking him up off the streets and also to his mother for as­sis­tance dur­ing some very dark days.

Sal­va­tion came in the form of an of­fer from one of his broth­ers ask­ing him to come to Scun­thorpe in Eng­land and as­sist in con­vert­ing an old school­house to make a home.

Noel stayed in a car­a­van on site and nursed his wounds: ‘I had to phone the Samar­i­tans and I did a lot of cry­ing.’

As he re­cov­ered his morale, the lure of the US was re-kin­dled and he set off once more on the em­i­grant trail across the At­lantic, set­tling in Detroit. All told, he adds up 17 years spent State­side and, though he never ac­quired the ac­cent, he be­came an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.

Liv­ing in Mo­tor City, he found work for a spell driv­ing au­to­mo­biles and buses around the vast Gen­eral Mo­tors com­plex for Pit­ney Bowes.

He was em­ployed by a glaz­ing com­pany and mis­ter I-can-fix-that came up with a neat way of tai­lor­ing their prod­ucts for the Alaskan mar­ket.

He had a stint with an out­fit which in­stalled high se­cu­rity win­dows and de­vised a means of ad­just­ing frames in the com­pany van with­out hav­ing to re­turn to base.

Noel’s Amer­i­can dream had its painful side, in­clud­ing in­juries sus­tained in an ac­ci­dent while driv­ing a bus and kid­ney trou­ble.

He also be­gan pil­ing on weight. A photo from his days in Michi­gan shows a 30 stone moun­tain of a man, un­recog­nis­able from the cur­rent slim ver­sion. He used to run an Ir­ish pub in Detroit but this was not con­ducive to a healthy life­style –and he knew it was do­ing him harm.

‘Many a night I fell out of the pub. That was not the way to go.’

As he con­tem­plated the im­pos­si­bil­ity of tack­ling the kid­ney prob­lem with scant Amer­i­can health in­sur­ance cover, he got word that his daugh­ter was preg­nant and needed her fa­ther.

He landed back in Dublin in the year 2000 with enough money to make a sin­gle phone call and availed of an of­fer from a sib­ling to come and stay in Aughrim.

He has been in County Wick­low ever since, along the way be­com­ing a reg­u­lar in the surgery of Doc­tor Nick Bug­gle in Ark­low. He was re­ferred from there to consultant Donal O’Shea and the weight man­age­ment clinic at Lough­lin­stown for life-saving surgery to re­duce the size of his stom­ach.

Never one to sit on his hands, Noel has been ac­tive over the years in the run­ning of Avoca’s com­mu­nity hall and he has ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion as a bingo caller.

So where did paint­ing en­ter his life? It was an ac­ci­dent.

Hav­ing reached mid­dle age with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions to speak of, he de­cided it was time to learn how to use a com­puter.

He went to the adult ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre in Ark­low and said ‘sign me up for every­thing’ – so sign him up they did.

As well as grap­pling with the new tech­nol­ogy, the stu­dent found him­self one Mon­day more or less by ac­ci­dent as the only pupil in an arts class.

The teacher handed him can­vas and paint, telling him to at­tempt a still life of the jug on the table.

For two years he bal­anced art and com­put­ing, even sell­ing a cou­ple of paint­ings be­fore he his en­er­gies were di­verted into jew­ellery mak­ing.

Then came the shakes. At first, it was as­sumed that they must be caused by Parkin­son’s Dis­ease.

Five dif­fer­ent doc­tors told him so but an X-ray or­dered by a sixth medic showed this was not the case, with­out of­fer­ing an al­ter­na­tive di­ag­no­sis.

Noel spec­u­lates that the prob­lem may be the le­gacy of an in­dus­trial or road ac­ci­dent but no one knows for sure.

He con­fesses that it was be­gin­ning to put him down in the dumps be­fore friend and fel­low artist Sheila Busher sug­gested he take up paint­ing again.

He was im­me­di­ately con­fronted with the in­abil­ity to take firm hold of a brush, oblig­ing him to come up with an al­ter­na­tive.

‘I have al­ways had needles,’ says the di­a­betic, ‘be­cause I have in­jected for years.’

A visit to the chemist shop al­lowed him stock up for free with out of date sy­ringes, per­fect for mak­ing lines or dots once loaded up with acrylic paint.

He makes a virtue of his trembling hands: ‘With art, it can­not hap­pen straight’ And it is true. ‘Life is an ex­per­i­ment – let’s see if this works.’

He cranks up the rock and roll as he works his magic, not only with the nee­dle but also us­ing the top of the sy­ringe plunger to ad­just his blobs and dots.

The best mu­sic for paint­ing by is The B52’s or Bruce Spring­steen, he reck­ons as he dab­bles with a sponge and then a spray bot­tle which maybe once held a do­mes­tic cleaner.

It looks like fun and the re­sults are cer­tainly not shabby, though most of them have not yet been on pub­lic dis­play.

Life, it seems, is in­deed an ex­per­i­ment.

A paint­ing by artist Noel Fal­lon.

Artist Noel Fal­lon in his stu­dio.

ABOVE: Artist Noel Fal­lon with his paint­ing needles. BE­LOW: Noel’s tools of the trade – paint-filled sy­ringes.

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