Artist of the Month

February 2020
John Sheehy

John Sheehy was born in South-West Ireland in 1949. He moved to London in the late 1950s, where he worked as a builder and roofer, but endured spells of unemployment and homelessness. He first began painting at the age of 51, encouraged by The Big Issue arts group. Since then he has produced a vast body of work, which includes painting, printmaking and sculpture, in addition to playwriting, poetry and music. He considers this collection a single, total narrative.

Sheehy’s paintings range between portraits, landscapes and the purely abstract. The pace at which he produces work is rapid, even his largest paintings (some 10 by 20 feet in size) take less than an hour to complete. He creates with a sense of urgency, immersed in the act of making and its therapeutic benefits. ‘Art helps me – it’s crucial, necessary; gets me through the day, gets me through the night,’ he says. ‘It’s a friend to me – a big time friend.’

With reference to both rural Ireland and London street scenes, Sheehy’s works detail seemingly familiar or everyday moments. He frequently returns to subjects which might initially appear folksy: sailing ships, terraced houses, shoe-shiners and chimney sweeps; however, when repeated across numerous works they gain a talismanic, otherworldly character. In particular, the recurring image of a watchful rider on horseback, as in Quickest Quickly (year unknown), functions as a representation of the artist himself. Rather than nostalgic, these works are a record of lived experience.

 

John Sheehy’s work can be seen at Sunderland Museum as part of the National Partners Programme exhibition Received Wisdom, until 10 May 2020.

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The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

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