Meet the Artist - Gerard Byrne

by David Donno

Artist Gerard Byrne - Photograph by  Andrew Roach

Artist Gerard Byrne - Photograph by Andrew Roach

Gerard Byrne is one of Ireland's leading contemporary artists. He currently lives and works in Brighton and has been spotted out and about by many of our customers painting his plein air Brighton scenes. In this interview, we get to know Gerard a little better...... 

1. How would you describe your art?

I would describe my en plein air paintings as modern impressionism. I would like to think my landscapes are dynamic and spontaneous and my style is rich with texture, colour and vibrancy. When confined to my studio I paint large scale figurative arrangements and still lifes with dramtic light effects and again from unusual angles. 

In all of my work, whatever the subject matter, I'm trying to explore the themes of impressionism in a contemporary manner capturing the transience and atmosphere, but most of all the emotion. 

2. How has your art evolved? How do you see it evolving in the future?

I feel my art has evolved naturally with time. I'm a self-taught artist with over 30 years of experience as a full-time painter. As with most things, practice makes perfect. I feel at this stage of my career I have a skill set to execute a painting in relatively short time. 

I would like to see my work evolving in the future to be larger, stronger and brighter. I might even try my hand at painting abstract some day.

Brighton Beach - Gerard Byrne

Brighton Beach - Gerard Byrne

3. With plein air painting you are obviously exposed to the elements - have there been any disasters caused by painting outside? Amusing stories are welcome!

'Irish weather is not conducive to 'plein air' painting. Traditionally, those who persist in sketching outdoors have been forced to paint small-scale studies, which are invariably used as preparatory notes for larger finished paintings in the Studio.  

It was with some surprise therefore that I encountered an artist (Gerard Byrne) on a Dublin street, battling the elements, surrounded by onlookers, painting a large canvas. The sheer size of Byrne's canvases, some as large as 48 x 60 inches dictated the development of a direct bold technique of paint application full of bravura. He can often be observed sketching on steps, in a doorway or on a rooftop where his vibrant palette and unique perspective plunge the view into canvases awash with colour and movement.' 

- James Gorry, Picture Restorer, Art Dealer, Owner Gorry Gallery Dublin. 

As regards to amusing stories... Where does one begin???

A couple of years ago, while still living in Dublin, on one of my painting trips to London I was painting St Paul's Cathedral from Millennium Bridge. Suddenly, a gust of wind came up and blew my easel over. My palette went flying in the air and ended up in the Thames. I watched it floating away. I then knew this painting would not be finished on this trip. 

Another one - I was painting on a summer's day on Sandycove beach, Dublin. While I'm involved in the process of painting I have a tendency to take several steps back and forward from the easel to get a sense of perspective. On this particular day, the beach was crowded. Halfway through the painting, I noticed that people were observing me in a different way than they usually do. This made me take notice. I discovered that some of the children had dug a very large hole especially for me over a meter and a half deep. The onlookers were waiting in anticipation for me to take that extra step back into the hole.... Luckily, I spotted it in time. I could have been seriously injured. 

Another day, on the very same beach, a dog approached my easel with an intention to pee on it. As he lifted his leg I lifted mine to give him a gentle kick. I missed, only to connect with my easel, sending it and the painting flying. The painting landed face down on the sand, as they do, destroyed. 

Another story - on my painting trip to Paris, I just completed a charcoal sketch of the Notre Dame Cathedral which I was very happy with. I felt it was very well executed. I placed it on the ground against my easel and started another painting. I was depicting barges by the River Seine. Right beside me, there were large steps leading to the water edge. Out of the water came this large dog. He made his way unawares to me, straight to my easel and begun to make himself dry as dogs do, shaking from head to tail. A large volume of water washed away my charcoal sketch. I was frozen with shock. The owner of the dog came down, put a lead on the dog and walked away embarrassed. The sketch was destroyed, not to be recovered. 

I have a lot more of similar stories up my sleeve. 

4. Where did your love of landscapes and architecture come from?

April at Brunswick Square - Gerard Byrne

April at Brunswick Square - Gerard Byrne

I was fortunate to grow up a short distance from the Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Palm houses and plants became a source of inspiration for many of my early paintings. After leaving school as a young man, I travelled the world in my camper van. I was always taken in by the beauty of architecture and wonders of the natural world. I wanted somehow to capture this beauty. I felt that if I could I would have accomplished something. On a later stage of my career, I was blessed to live and work in the coastal town of Dalkey in South Dublin bay with its stunning surroundings, I painted this place on man occasions, leaving me with a title 'Dalkey Artist'. 

5. Travelling is a big source of inspiration for you - is there anything in particular which will draw you somewhere?

Sun, light, shadows and water are the hidden ingredients. 

6. What other sources of inspiration do you have?

Everyday life is the greatest source of my inspiration. I'm consumed by my surroundings. I find myself naturally translating what I see into my artwork. As an example, when I was living in London recently, nearby Columbia Road Flower Market in Shoreditch became a fantastic source of relatively cheap fresh flowers. That year I painted several large-scale floral pieces. As a figurative artist, I like observing people and their ways. 

7. In your opinion, what makes a memorable piece of art?

What makes a good painting is when everything goes right from start to finish. The creation seems effortless resulting in a piece that has something magical about it. Hidden ingredient unknown to man. One can not name it but it's there. 

8. What are your tips for aspiring artists?

Don't think about making money as an artist. Think about making art and the money will follow if you're good enough. Practise, practise and practise. Never give up. Eat, sleep and drink ART.