Life as an artist can sometimes be a struggle... you have to persevere

As the annual exhibition by the Maclise Art Society opens April 13, CHRIS DUNNE talks to members about making a living out of painting, the support of fellow artists, and where they find inspiration for their work
Life as an artist can sometimes be a struggle... you have to persevere
Maria Dowling artist

IT would be wonderful to sit and paint all day, wouldn’t it?

Or maybe that’s not the case!

“It can be hard to sit and paint all day,” admits Fermoy artist, Maria Dowling, who is one of the exhibitors at the Maclise Art Society Annual Exhibition, which opens at the Cork School of Music, tomorrow, and continues to April 29.

“You need determination and commitment to keep at it. Everyday things can often get in the way of your work.”

Another element that is vital is the ability to sit in front of the easel for hours on end.

“Inspiration is very important alright,” says Maria, who used to work in the food industry and who has a degree in science. “That has to be summoned up too.”

“It must be nice to be able make a living out of one’s passion?

“Yes,” says Maria. “It is. I am fortunate to get regular commissions for work. I took up painting full-time 10 years ago. I always painted and decided to indulge my passion for painting so I gave up work and I’m painting since.

Work by Maria Dowling
Work by Maria Dowling

“I can make a good living out of painting. Like everything, you have to do a bit of struggling sometimes. It can be tough, but you must persevere. If you love it; then you will keep doing it.”

Does her home reflect her passion?

“It is full of oils and acrylics everywhere; lots of paint brushes too! Right now I’m working on a commission of a portrait for somebody who is retiring. It is to be a surprise.”

How much is a portrait?

“It depends on the size,” says Maria. “But between €400 and €600. I can do the portrait from a photograph, which I prefer to take myself. It can take up to five weeks to complete. I go away for a few hours and leave it. Then I come back to it with fresh eyes.”

Nobody would probably sit still that long; no matter how nice and life-like the result.

A painting by artist Maria Dowling
A painting by artist Maria Dowling

Maria laughs.

“That is true,” she says. “Although my daughter has a real affinity with animals, especially dogs, and she can coax them to relax and sit for me for ages.”

Maria is renowned for her seascapes, ‘Spirit of the Sea’ is one example where she captures the majestic beauty and force of the sea in all its glory.

“Seascapes are among my favourite subjects to paint,” says Maria.

“I will be exhibiting two seascapes among others at the Maclise Exhibition. I was lucky to sell two paintings at the exhibition last year.

“The Cork School of Music is a great venue to exhibit and the foyer there has lovely light and a beautiful atmosphere.”

Maria says the Maclise Art Society is a good place to learn how to approach painting.

“Every month, a renowned artist gives us a class and provides great tips,” says Maria.

“The question and answer session is particularly helpful. The members swap notes and it is a really sociable group.”

Mary Daly, from Ballygarvan, agrees. She enjoys being part of the artistic group.

“I’ve been painting for more than 20 years,” says Mary.

“I took up painting when the kids were out of primary school. I always felt the need to create. I never did a formal art course or attended art college.

“My working background is with the Southern Health Board. A friend told me about the Maclise Art Society and I signed up.”

Mary gets her inspiration from her fellow artists.

“We all have an appreciation for all types of art,” says Mary.

“The mixture of people in the group is great. Many of them are retired like me and have more time now to paint. Everyone is welcome.”

Mary is an enthusiastic participant.

“I particularly enjoy the demonstration from a well-known artist that takes place every month,” she says.

“They are usually one of the Masters. The days out when we go to a scenic location to paint are always enjoyable.”

Work by Mary Daly
Work by Mary Daly

Mary paints in oils, water colours and mixed media, which is a mix of paint and other materials. What pieces is she submitting to the exhibition?

“I have a nice painting of a Crosshaven scene and one of Skelligs Rock, which I painted when I was on a summer trip with my husband.”

Do you have to have a creative streak to be a painter?

“I say to people; try it,” says Mary. “If you like it, you can be good at it. Find a channel in which to practice. I make a point of sitting down to paint once a week in a corner of the house. I have friends who paint, and we often meet up and work together.”

The house isn’t always conducive to getting the creative juices flowing though. Mary laughs.

“Too right. My grandchildren often come here to visit.”

Any budding artists among them?

“There is one little chap who has a promising creative streak,” says Mary.

Niall McNeill, the president of the Maclise Art Society, has a creative streak too. He is a well-known Cork artist.

“I am delighted at the interest being shown in the exhibition,” says Niall. “The exhibitors are delighted too.”

Niall has another string to his bow. He is a good story-teller.

We are accompanied by strains of symphonies and concertos in the corridors of Cork School of Music as Niall tells me about the man himself; Cork man, Daniel Maclise, who started it all.

“Daniel Maclise was born in Cork city in 1806,” says Niall. “His education was the plainest kind, but he was eager for culture, fond of reading and anxious to become an artist.

“His father though, placed him in employment in 1820 in Newenham’s Bank where he remained for two years before leaving to study at the Cork School of Art. He was one of the first students to attend there.”

Daniel was ambitious as well as arty.

“He had a lively mind and a great personality,” says Niall. “He mixed well with literary and political figures.”

When Daniel spotted a famous figure visiting Ireland, he made a sketch of the man.

“Sir Walter Scott was travelling Ireland. “Young Maclise made a surreptitious sketch of the great man, which he afterwards lithographed.

“It became hugely popular and it led to many commissions for portraits which he executed in pencil.”

Daniel Maclise’s talents didn’t go unnoticed.

“When various influential friends recognised Maclise’s genius and promise; they were anxious to furnish him with the means to study in London,” says Niall.

“But he refused financial help and he saved the money himself. Arriving in London in July, 1827, he made a sketch of John Kean, the actor, which, like his portrait of Scott, was lithographed and published.”

Was Daniel ‘made’ then?

“He made a considerable sum of money,” says Niall.

“Daniel entered the Royal Academy of Arts in 1828, eventually being awarded the highest prizes open to students. He began exhibiting in RA in 1829 and he was made an associate in 1830 and an academician in 1840.

“Mixing with influential people, Daniel soon became a member of the literacy and artistic circles of London.”

How did the young Cork man support himself in these upper echelons of society?

“He supported himself by making pencil portraits and in 1830 he began his famous series of character portraits for Frazer’s Magazine. He also illustrated books such as Hall’s Ireland; its scenery and character. His friends included the Disraeli family and Thackeray.”

Daniel got a royal commission.

“Between 1858 and 1864, Daniel painted a fine series of large scale frescoes for the new Houses of Parliament in London,” says Niall.

The Cork man’s legacy is the result of an amazing adventure; a magnificent odyssey. It seems fitting that the longest established art group in Cork should be named after the iconic Cork man.

“Indeed, it is very fitting,” says Niall.

“In later life, Daniel became quite reclusive. He never married and he lived with his parents and his sister in London.”

He was consigned to history.

“Daniel Maclise was little-known and under-appreciated,” says Niall.

“The art group was founded 36 years ago in 1981. The purpose of the organisation is to promote and encourage art within its members.” 

There are more than 40 members in the Maclise Art Society.

“We welcome all ages and abilities,” says Niall. “Although it is fair to say a percentage of our members are senior citizens! We all enjoy the outings to places like Fota and Blarney Castle. Membership is open to all artists, amateur or professional, even non-painters who have an interest in the visual arts. The society meets once a month from September to May in the lecture theatre of the Crawford Gallery, Emmet Place Cork.” 

Niall is very proud of his role as president of the Maclise Art Society.

“I certainly am,” says Niall. “It was a proud day for us when our own president, Michael D Higgins, opened the exhibition in 2015. His visit coincided with the Cork Choral Festival. It was a great occasion."

This year Joan Lucey, from Vibes and Scribes, is doing the honours and opening the exhibition, where there will be affordable art for all.

 The Maclise Art Society Annual Exhibition, runs at Cork School of Music April 13 to 29, 10am to 4pm.

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