From Belfast to LA: My Career in its Infancy
I couldn’t be more excited that, next week, my art will be exhibited in Mayfair, London, alongside my twentieth century idols including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and David Hockney. As one of just a handful of contemporary artists lucky enough to be included in this exhibition, I started to reminisce about just how far I’ve come since my humble beginnings in Belfast, and my journey through London, to LA, and back again.
I thought now was as good a time as any to tell my story – or the first few years at least. It’s a story of being in the right place at the right time; of meeting the right people, and of having great friends and collectors with an unerring belief in my work. Oh, and just a little persistence…
After graduating from Belfast College of Art and Design in the early 1980s, I set off, armed with just a paintbrush (or so the story goes), in an old VW Beetle, for the bright lights of London. Living in Belsize Park I painted from my flat (hovel!) above a taxi office, while working in a framers to pay the rent. For a little bit of extra cash, and to get closer to the buzzing art world, I also decided to do a little bit of life modelling at the Camden Art Institute. I sat for some huge talents, including the late great Jo Brockelhurst, whose bright, vibrant and sometimes slightly risqué illustrations still inspire my work today. I was lucky enough to be included in a few great shows at a number of London galleries including Cutts Gallery, Steve Bartley Gallery, and Roger Francis Gallery.
Around the same time, a dear friend of mine that had just had a baby introduced me to one her NCT friends, a fantastic woman called Diana. A fan of my work, and longing to be able to paint, Diana became my student, working with me out of my little studio/flat. One day her delightful American husband, Barry Levinson, came to visit – in the UK directing a Spielberg movie – and acquired a couple of my paintings. That was really my big break. Barry wondered what my paintings would look like with an LA influence: the blue Californian sky, sandy beaches and endless sun. A few months later they offered me a studio and a place to stay in Malibu, so off I went – just 25 years of age – to try my luck in LA.
Not long into my journey I realised that struggling artists will struggle however sunny their surroundings. Of course, having a (soon-to-be) Academy Award-winning director on your side certainly helps, but it still was not easy. I started off with small shows out of my studio, exhibiting the odd painting here and there in cafes, bars, cinemas and theatres, and gradually – after a few years – worked my way up into the odd group show in galleries such as B-1 and New Moon. In fact, a curator from one of my LA haunts recently sent me some fabulous pictures from thirty years ago…check out the 80s arm warmers!
Photos from an exhibition in 1987, courtesy of Toby Willner
In 1985, when living in West Hollywood, I met another man who changed my life: master etcher and printmaker Pascal Giraudon. Pascal had moved to LA after working in the South of France with some of the most talented artists of the twentieth century, including Marc Chagall and Salvador Dali. We began to work together on a number of etchings, and even after this, he continued as my printmaker for years to come. An amazing man with an extremely colourful background, Pascal’s story is a whole blog post in itself (watch this space!), but suffice to say, he was a huge influence.
With these works under my belt, I then secured my first solo show with Next Gallery in 1987, and from there my career took off. I’ll talk a bit more about how my career progressed in my next post, but in the meantime, check out my latest works at Clarendon Fine Art Mayfair, from 13th December throughout the festive period.