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Cork Lives
From The Inside, by Gary Kearney, is a view looking out the window from TK Maxx. 
From The Inside, by Gary Kearney, is a view looking out the window from TK Maxx. 
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In with the new: artist paints a changing Cork city

NOT everyone is a fan of Cork city’s ever-changing skyline — plenty of traditionalists worry that the glass-fronted concrete architecture will be a blot on the landscape.

But artist Gary Kearney is embracing the changing shape of the built environment and modernity in his work.

Documenting the changes in Cork, Gary likes to walk around the city, photographing buildings that catch his eye. He sometimes returns to them to see them in a different light.

 Through The Frame, featuring Cork docks.

Through The Frame, featuring Cork docks.

His resulting architectural-style paintings, some of which are shown here, are striking and modern looking. “I like the sheen from the new buildings,” he says.

Gary has been working professionally as an artist in his adopted city of Cork for the last 15 years. Originally from Cashel in County Tipperary, he has forged a strong relationship with the city’s buildings.

They are the material that figure in his acrylic on canvas art.

The work is very much architectural, reflecting his interest in buildings, perspective and natural light.

Double Vision, acrylic on canvas, is a reflective view by the The Elysian Building.
Double Vision, acrylic on canvas, is a reflective view by the The Elysian Building.

Gary describes himself as almost a photo realist painter, influenced by the late American painter, Edward Hopper, as well as another American artist, Richard Estes, who is best known for his city and geometric landscapes.

 Gary at the Royal West of England Academy 167th Annual Open Exhibition in Bristol last year.

Gary at the Royal West of England Academy 167th Annual Open Exhibition in Bristol last year.

Gary’s work is quite detailed but he likes to leave out some of the detail of buildings “so that it’s a bit rougher to look at”.

Not for him sketches of St Anne’s Church in Shandon, which tends to be the predictable subject matter of many artists portraying Cork city buildings.

Gary has painted St Finbarr’s Cathedral, but he generally favours more contemporary structures.

Gary, who graduated from the Crawford College of Art and Design in 2005, says his work is best described as realist. He particularly likes the work of Edward Hopper because “not all of whose work was very detailed. Some of it was a bit more vague. I like that combination of detail and vagueness.”

Gary, whose painting ‘Through the Frame’ depicts the docks, likes to spend time there as it offers him plenty of material.

“I really like the docks as a place to go to. I’ve been there in all sorts of weather. It is so open, especially at the moment.

“It is slowly being broken down, with buildings starting to eat into the old part of the docks. I can’t say I like what’s happening there but it is good subject matter.”

Gary’s most recent painting, entitled ‘Through the Vats’ is a view over CUH. He has been photographing the hospital and its expansion, over the years.

A resident of Wilton, where he lives with his apprentice accountant wife, Gary sometimes turns his hand to paintings of that suburb. But for the most part, his work is of the city.

‘Double Vision’ is a reflected view of the Elysian while ‘Different Levels’ is another view of the Elysian, taken from the car park.

 Through The Vats — which is a view over the Cork University Hospital.

Through The Vats — which is a view over the Cork University Hospital.

Gary is fascinated by car parks. His painting, ‘Yield’ features the car park at Merchant’s Quay. He has also completed a number of paintings of the car park in Blackpool.

‘From the Inside’ is a view from inside TK Maxx, looking out through one of the store’s windows. Gary’s work mostly measures 60cm x 50cm.

Gary’s work has featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the country, including the RHA (The Royal Hibernian Academy) annual exhibition in Dublin in 2018. It was also on show in both the Royal Ulster Academy’s annual exhibition in Belfast and at the Royal West of England Academy exhibition in Bristol last year.

 Different Levels, by Garty Kearney, is a view featuring the Elysian Building through the car park.

Different Levels, by Garty Kearney, is a view featuring the Elysian Building through the car park.

Closer to home, Gary has had a solo exhibition at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh. He has also had work on show at the Lavit Gallery. Recently, Gary had a solo show at the Linen Hall Arts Centre in Mayo and he has been in group shows at the Backwater Artists’ gallery and at the Source Arts Centre in Co Tipperary.

His work is represented in public collections such as the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery and the Office of Public Works.

With a studio at the Backwater Artists’ studio complex on Wandesford Quay, Gary has fulfilled his undergraduate dream of being an artist.

“I always wanted to do art so I got a portfolio together. I was drawing all the time. I did a post Leaving Cert course and went on to college. I suppose it was only in my last two years at college that I realised how much I wanted to do art.”

Rarely doing commissions, Gary focuses on his own practice. He is a gallery artist at the Chimera Gallery in Mullingar. He recently sold a piece to the OPW and says his work sells reasonably well.

“The more success I have, the more confident I get and the greater my work is appreciated. Being accepted into the likes of the RHA is great. It’s nice to build on things like that. I have five or six paintings to send to the Chimera Gallery. I may have an exhibition there.”

During lockdown, Gary painted “a lot at home. I couldn’t go anywhere so I got a lot done”. He says he has become more disciplined as he navigates his career. And with that comes ambition.

Gary admits that it can sometimes be hard to sell his work, but he is generally optimistic and appreciative of what success he has had. 

“I work nearly all the time, constantly taking photographs.”

He must notice businesses and buildings closing down in the city? 

“It’s a moment the city is going through. Maybe that will change in a few months. There seems to be a lot of building work going on in Cork in the last few years.”

It’s the new and the relatively new that interests Gary as opposed to the older established buildings. He is very much an artistic chronicler of a city in transition.