In April 2017, Studio Voltaire will present the first institutional exhibition of works by Irish artist John Sheehy (b.1949 Kerry, Ireland). This will be the first time a comprehensive survey of Sheehy’s work to date has been staged, and includes large–scale paintings that have never been presented to the public.
“It’s like if I’ve got a big piece of material, it’s like a hurricane. It’s like it’s blowing very fast. It’s like desperation to get the paints and to get it on there. When I’m in it I’m not really worried whether it’s dried or whatever, it’s the action, it’s the movement. I can’t describe it.”
Sheehy, who lives and works in London, began painting at the age of 51, and over the past eighteen years has produced a prolific body of work that also encompasses printmaking, ceramic and sculpture, alongside playwriting, poetry and music. While formally, painting compositions range between portraits, landscapes and the purely abstract, Sheehy most often seems to foreground personal or biographical recollections in works that evoke his native Ireland, everyday street–scenes, and the artist’s travels.
Sheehy frequently returns to vernacular images that might initially appear folksy – donkeys, sailing ships, closely terraced houses and chimney sweeps – but when repeated across numerous works they become insistently talismanic. Single subjects may be fixatedly rendered again and again over a period of weeks and months, to then be set–aside for a new focus. Viewed together, these series suggest an imperative, urgent need to capture or perhaps, expel these images.
The prodigious pace at which Sheehy produces work is extraordinary, and often only limited by the volume and types of material to–hand. Working continuously and vigorously across mediums, the artist’s hand is felt in confident and robust brushwork – even his largest paintings, some 10 by 20 feet large, take less than an hour to complete. Primed, stretched canvases and reams of etched paper give way to more roughly finished surfaces of linen and wooden board, and then to ceiling tiles, window blinds and paving slabs which together form a staggering collection consisting of thousands of images and words. However, rather than organising his practice via chronology or medium, Sheehy considers this body of work as a single, total narrative.
Artist and writer John Joseph Sheehy (b 1949. Ireland) lives and works in London. Solo exhibitions in- clude: No Time for Tears, Outpost, London (2016); An Introspective, Atom Gallery, London (2015); Through My Hand, Outpost, London (2015); The Colours Choose Me, The House Gallery, London (2014); and Dreaming With My Eyes Open, Novas Gallery, London (2008). Group exhibitions include: Heretics: An Introduction to Outsider Art, Redwing Gallery, Penzance (2015); Exhibition #2, The Museum of Everything, Tate Modern, London (2010); and Urban Networks, Courtauld Institute, London (2003).