Interview With Donna Ahern In Tribune Arts & Antiques 2nd September 2007
PAULINE Bewick is arguably one of Ireland's foremost artists, with an instantly recognisable unique style and a career that has spanned across seven decades. Following a prolific career her vivid paintings are featured in galleries and private collections world wide. She has two daughters Holly and Poppy and she is now living in Kerry with her husband Tom. When I spoke to Bewick she was in the throes of preparing for her much anticipated exhibition 'The Visual Translation of The Midnight Court' (Cúirt an Mheán Oíche.) Her forthcoming exhibition will be comprised of 11 large scale paintings, which were commissioned by the American 'Merriman Company' and is a visual adaption of Brian Merriman's 1780's controversial poem the 'The Midnight Court.' Bewick had a long day ahead as she had to endure the arduous task of signing a myriad of prints which are of the original paintings.
"Today, I have to sign about 2,750 prints. My right hand is writing signature, after signature, after signature - which is quite tiring. I had to enlist the help of someone to turn the pages for me" she says. Bewick discussed with me being raised by a single mom and how she visually created both her own imaginary being - the infamous 'Yellow Man' as well as Brian Merriman's imaginary being. You've been painting since you were two and as your mother had the foresight to collect all of your drawings, many collections and galleries boast some of your work since you were a child. Do you think that your mother's enthusiasm carved your career path as an artist? I do but I think that she would be horrified to hear that because she didn't have any foresight: she just did it out of motherly enthusiasm. Her enthusiasm for me as a child was totally and utterly marvellous but it was one to one and nothing to do with the people out there in the public. Creatively, she would encourage me and say oh gosh look at that – it's marvellous but do it again because it is a little bit messy, you know. So she would have a certain amount of input into what was happening. In the donations I've given to Ireland (220 paintings to Waterford and 220 to Kerry) it shows my work from the age of two up to seventy. It shows in some cases where my mother had said 'Oh that's marvellous b ut do it again.' I displayed a few pieces side by side where it shows the one I did first and then the one I did again under my mother's guidance.
Was your mother an artist herself? Yes my mother was an artist. She went to art school in Newcastle. My sister was also an artist (she was a marvellous artist) but she stopped and became a dietitian which is another big passion in our family. It is common knowledge that you had an unconventional upbringing which was spent travelling around Ireland and the UK and although you spent most of your peripatetic childhood on a farm in Co.Kerry, you also lived on boats and caravans. What was that like? Yes, I grew up in a number of places. I was born in Northhampton but we moved to Kenmare, Co.Kerry, where we lived until I was ten. We then we moved to Portrush in Belfast and then to Wales and then Henley-on-Thames. Any strange and marvellous hutlike thing, we lived in. It was just my mother and I as my father died of alcoholism when I was two, and my sister moved away to study.
Do you think that being brought up by a single mother contributed to your free spirit? Yes. Well I think really that it was because of my mother that I became a free spirit. She was not irreverent about authority but she didn't have reverence. Her free spirit sprang from having no particular rules. I think that she didn't implement rules because her family were conventional middle class and they had rules. She was certainly a hippy before her time. You've invested the best part of the past decade producing works of 'The Yellow Man' whom you describe as the "Ideal being." Will you miss him? No. I feel like I have completed him. I feel like I've said it all. I continue to see the 'Yellow Man' in both women and men, that kind of non-judgemental nature free spirit. I see it around me.
It has been said that Merriman's imaginary being appeared to him when he was out walking. Did the 'Yellow Man' appear to you in the same way? Yes, more or less, funnily enough. You must credit yourself for spotting that. You are right. I never saw it like that but you have just seen it like that. The 'Yellow Man' came out of the blue to me, not to intellectualise it at all. I was in our place in Tuscany, we bought a place for €5000 – a huge lovely old farm in the middle of the country and I was sitting under the grape vines on a balcony doodling and I doodled the 'Yellow Man.' At first I didn't know who he was or where he was from or why I was doing it. And then two little Italian boys were playing and they came over to me to look at my drawings and laughed and said do more, do more! So, I thought to myself there is something magic about this 'Yellow Man.'
So who is the 'Yellow Man'? The 'Yellow Man' was influenced by a Tuscan farmer that I knew. He always alone, and always smiling. He often played with my children. He certainly was no oil painting – he wasn't good looking at all. He never married. He was almost hunched-back and small and shrivelled. He was about forty. He went around the land year in and year out doing his work and I realised the 'Yellow Man' was him. He would laugh and he would think that it is crazy that the 'Yellow Man' was influenced by him. He was very unusual and I don't know if he was simple or wise. The same applies to the 'Yellow Man': I don't know whether he is simple or wise. I've never said that before but that sums him up.
You are letting go of the 'Yellow Man' to work with Brian Merriman's imaginary being. How did you go about mortalising someone else's imaginary being? Well I had to read 'The Midnight Court.' It took a while to understand it but when I did, I did quick sketches in a note book and those were the sketches that became the huge paintings. There wasn't a bum note from the first sketch to the last. It just flowed out of me like liquid silk. It went so well - it was heaven. I loved doing that commission. Also, my husband and I went and stayed in Dromoland castle near Feakel (where the poem was written) and I did several paintings of Loch Graney and the mountains. Everything was beautifully laid out. There were swans and ducks in the lake - just like in the poem. I met some people in Feakel village and they took me to the graveyard where the court house was said to have stood. I was shown the unmarked grave of the witch Biddy Early who features in the poem. I stood in the graveyard with a group and we had the poem recited to us in Irish. I am going to go back there to have a party in the town hall ahead of the exhibition. When you aren't painting - what do you do to unwind? I paint (she laughs.) Painting for me is the best way to unwind. I go into another world when I paint or when I draw and that to me is utter relaxation.
With that Pauline was interrupted by her two grand children Aaron, ten and Adam, three, who she tells me lives up the field from her and visit her often. Our conversation comes to a close as the children are vying for her attention. She says "they just told me that I have to look after them for the next twenty minutes as their mom has to go some where" and although we could have chatted for hours, we had to leave it at that. 'The Visual Translation of The Midnight Court' will be launched in The Shelbourne Hotel on November 14th, 2007. A limited edition of presentation sets, of eleven signed prints (510mm x 590mm) are available for purchase prior to the launch.
Cost of Each Set: €8000 plus V.A.T. @ 21%.