From Joe Exotic to Joker... lockdown has Cork artist's creative juices flowing

Cork artist Joe O’Gorman has tapped into his creative depths during lockdown to produce some fabulous art. SHAMIM MALEKMIAN finds out what drives him
From Joe Exotic to Joker... lockdown has Cork artist's creative juices flowing

Joe Exotic on Cook Street in Cork, by Jason O’Gorman. 

FOR more than two months now, the people of Cork have been in lockdown.

But for some people, sheltering at home under coronavirus restrictions has been a chance to tap into their creative talents.

For Cork graphic artist, Jason O’Gorman, it has provided a chance to express his love for his beloved home city and county.

“The lockdown has had a very positive impact on me because I have more quiet time to think and be creative,” he says.

“Because every day (before the lockdown) it was like a rat race, you are running to work, taking kids to taekwondo and collecting this and that, you don’t have much time to think.”

Among the fruits of his endeavours is an illustration that depicts the famous central character from Netflix’s popular true-crime documentary, Tiger King, Joe Exotic, drawn in the streets off Cork city.

The show was widely watched by homebound people in Cork and elsewhere. So O’Gorman drew Joe Exotic on Cook Street, petting his beloved tigers.

The artist is keen to turn the trivial topics of our lockdown conversations, into a work of art.

REBEL VIBE: Cork artist Jason O’Gorman loves his home city and often features it in his work
REBEL VIBE: Cork artist Jason O’Gorman loves his home city and often features it in his work

O’Gorman says he can’t stand the TV show, and the illustration was his way of ‘processing’ its absurdity.

“Drawing is my way of digesting the stuff that I couldn’t consume during the day,” he says. 

“With Joe Exotic, I was trying to process all the normal things around it.”

Born and bred in Cork, O’Gorman, who is a graphic designer by trade and runs Dynamite Design Studio on Georges’s Quay, has also actualised one of his enduring ideas under lockdown: portraying the river’s underworld.

The River Lee's underwater.
The River Lee's underwater.

The finished work features turtles, starfishes and octopuses, whose vision has been blurred by the azure of the Lee, viewing the city’s quiet night through a lens of blue comfort — inured and indifferent to our lockdown blues.

O’Gorman, whose love for drawing blossomed in childhood, is a self-taught artist. He says drawing is his way of taking a break from graphic design, and what better subject than the city he has never been tempted to leave?

That has manifested itself in another drawing, a map, in which Cork city roads have intertwined to shape a broken heart during the Covid-19 pandemic. Three hands, however, are busy mending it, pointing to the city’s aptitude for bouncing back.

“When you’re doing graphic design, you have to do it in a way to make the client happy. Whereas, in illustration, you can draw whatever comes into your own head, and you don’t deal with anybody else,” he says.

“I draw Cork because I have no ambitions to go on an expedition through the Antarctic, in the jungle or a village in France. I will die in Cork. I love Cork. I go on my holidays in Cork. That’s just where my life is.”

On Grand Parade, O’Gorman has illustrated The Joker, full make-up and all. 

“Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there,” he has The Joker saying. Behind him, all the shops are shuttered, not a soul on the streets.

“The lockdown has impacted my work, yes. There was one evening when I cycled into town, and that was in the heavy stages of the lockdown, and Cork was eerie, almost like a ghost town,” the artist says.

The Joker, by Cork artist Jason O'Gorman.
The Joker, by Cork artist Jason O'Gorman.

The Joker is a recurring persona in his work. Last year, the character appeared outside City Limits Comedy Club. “I thought, The Joker and comedy club, it makes sense, that’s as deep as I got on that,” he says.

O’Gorman says: “I always try not to offend anybody or bring up any issues.”

But he adds: “You’d have to be careful when your work is in the public’s eye. The most backlash I got was for the one I had of Wonder Woman running to Penney’s, and a lot of girls were saying that it was very sexist. It was never my intention. I’m married to the best woman in the world. I’m not like that at all.

“You know, people interpret things in their own ways, and you have to appreciate and respect that.”

As the lockdown continues, compelling us to live in the moment, O’Gorman re-emphasises the importance of combating the blues by getting creative or simply daydreaming.

Pondering colourful ideas and making art under lockdown is the artist’s way of keeping mentally fit. The Dutch call it Niksen: the art of taking time to do nothing.

Research by Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England, also found that daydreaming — an inevitable by-product of idleness — “makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas.”

O’Gorman says of lockdown: “I’m so happy. It’s almost like I’ve gone back to childhood, exploring everything again, and the phone is not ringing constantly. I can just focus on drawing. It’s very rewarding.

“When you have more time to think, you have more time to be inspired, and that means knowing exactly what to do when you start drawing.”

To order O’Gorman’s artwork, visit

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