A DRIMOLEAGUE-based artist, who has autism, is described by his mentor as an instinctive artist with no formal training but heaps of talent.
Gordon Moxley, who is in his late 40s, is having a solo exhibition in the former Burke’s pub on Drimoleague’s main street, which opened at the weekend and continues until August 24.
The pub is being converted into a cultural space by Douglas Henderson and Noël O’Callaghan. It will be the first time that Gordon will be showing his work near his own doorstep.
Thanks to Gordon’s mentor, Tom Weld, Gordon has had a number of exhibitions in West Cork and has created three murals in Bantry. He was also a participant in the international exhibition of outsider art all over Cork city in 2016.
Artist, Tom, who moved from the UK to West Cork seven years ago, got talking to artist Rachel Perry, who had worked at Co-Action Bantry, with Gordon.
“She felt that Gordon needed one-to-one mentoring and that I’d be just the person,” explains Tom. So, six years ago, Tom became Gordon’s mentor. Gordon is not very verbal but Tom says he is appreciative of him.
“Right from the start, it appeared to me that Gordon didn’t need a teacher. He knows everything he needs to know. I’ve introduced him to new media like working with fabric and doing 3-D art. Gordon takes up new things as if he has been doing them all his life. It’s almost like he has access to a lot. So often, Gordon’s work reminds me of the work of people he has never seen — almost any fairly abstract twentieth century artist. In particular, Howard Hodgkins and Patrick Heron.”
Tom says that there are lots of well known western artists who spend their lives trying to access the world of childhood and the world of ancient cultures for their art.
“Gordon seems to have accessed both these worlds intuitively. His work often reminds me of aboriginal painting from Australia and sometimes, the American abstract expressionists. He can work on a large scale. When I first gave him access to an 8 x 4 feet sheet of ply that was primed and ready to go, he embarked on it without any thought. That’s what is so refreshing about his work. He works with fantastic energy.”
Gordon hasn’t attended art classes.
“He doesn’t really get lessons from me either. I see my main role as working with him to validate his work and providing a window for him to the rest of the world. He had never shown his work until he met me. Whenever he shows his work, he sells some of it.”
Gordon also works on the family farm and does a day’s work at a local joinery.
“He works with huge energy, sometimes too much. He can wreck things, not through bad temper but through giving it too much.”
The talented artist can also sing.
Tom sees Gordon once a week for a couple of hours at Co-Action.
“Co-Action is the West Cork version of what happens in all the counties in Ireland. It has government funding and is for people with learning difficulties. A lot of the clients are adults with Down Syndrome. There are people there with autism, to give them labels which I don’t like. It also caters for people with very severe physical difficulties who are very dependent. But Gordon is completely able. And he gets excited at openings of exhibitions. He definitely sees what’s happening emotionally.”
The West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen has a members’ show every year.
“A couple of years ago, I bought membership for Gordon so that he could show work there. He goes to the openings as an equal with all the great and good of the arts scene.”
Tom says that he has learned “a great deal” from working alongside Gordon and mentoring him.
“I suppose most of Gordon’s characteristics that I’ve mentioned are enviable. I’ve longed to achieve the manic energy he has with no interference from the silly old brain.”
Tom doesn’t just sit and watch Gordon at work.
“I take photographs of his work. I also do smallish pieces of work, alongside him. I enjoy doing that. Again, it validates what he’s doing. I don’t want him overwhelmed with huge paintings. So I just work quietly and on a small scale beside him.”
In the UK, Tom has worked with kids who were excluded from school and young prisoners. He has had a number of creative roles. How do services here for people with disabilities compare to what’s on offer in the UK?
“I’m pretty impressed by Co-Action in lots of ways. In other ways, it’s been frustrating. But by and large, what I love about it is that in our local town of Bantry, you will never walk down the street without meeting some clients of Co-Action, whether they’re accompanied or not. They are a largely accepted presence in the town and they are not hidden away. That’s a huge thing.”
Tom says that Gordon “is probably the first in his family to burst onto the art scene,” and now they realise that he has a true gift.