Joe O\'Reilly

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TONY WRIGHT: This is Tony Wright, it’s the 28th of November 2012 and I’m talking to Joe O’Reilly. So can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

JOE O’REILLY: Okay Tony, right, my name is Joseph O’Reilly; I was born in 1957 in the village Slaithwaite in the outskirts of Huddersfield.

TW: Right. What was it like over there at that time?

JO: I think it would have been pretty similar to how Hebden Bridge would have been at the same sort of time; it was a small hamlet where I was born…..on the hillside…..a very small population, quite rural, and most of the industry and activities were in the bottoms of the valleys, very similar to Hebden Bridge; mainly textiles…..that was how the place sort of functioned.

TW: Did you live on the bottoms or on the tops?

JO: On the tops, that’s where I was born…..and then later on my parents……found it pretty hard going living on the outskirts and moved down into the bottom of the valley, so we were closer to facilities, schools……public transport, those sort of things.

TW: Were they farmers then?

JO: No, no, my parents were from Southern Ireland and they came to Britain Second World War time…..and I think when they first moved to England they’d lived in……quite urban places and found it quite…..quite stressful in some ways, and so the opportunity came to live in this……village, and it kind of fitted their requirements at the time. It was inexpensive to live there, and…….yeah, I think that’s how it came about.

TW: Right……..the way you pronounce it, don’t they call it Slouwaite?

JO: Yeah, some people call it Slouwaite, or Slaithwaite….it’s interchangeable really, interchangeable.

TW: Right, okay…… how long did you live there for?

JO: I was…..I probably lived there until I was about eighteen years old…….so I’d been to school, I’d been at school, I’d done O Levels and A Levels, and I went to a local art college to do a Foundation course which was a one year course preparing you to do a degree……and I did that locally at a college in Batley; Batley and Dewsbury Art College as it was known at the time, so I did a one year Foundation course there Tony, and then I did a three year Fine Art degree in Sheffield, at Sheffield Polytechnic as it was called at the time……so that took me up to 1980 when I graduated.

TW: Right. Did you go on after that to study anywhere else?

JO: No, I…..I did make attempts to do Post Graduate work but it was quite complicated at the time, to get finance for it, and…….and there were very few colleges actually that did…….Post Graduate work in Fine Art, so I……carried on painting as soon as I left college, and…….I moved away from Sheffield and lived in a place called Holmfirth, again on the outskirts of Huddersfield, so I lived there from 1980 to about ’82…….at which time I’d graduated and I’d got a body of work which I started to exhibit, so I started to exhibit in local colleges…….the local…..the local art gallery, and so I showed in places like Huddersfield Art Gallery, I had a show at the Piece Hall in Halifax and that would have been around about ‘81ish, ’82…….so I was quite active showing my work.

TW: Right……so did you make a living out of selling it then, or how did you get by?

JO: No it took…..I was living on the dole; I was living on income support so I was doing that for about six or seven years; I did pick up a tiny bit of…….teaching at art colleges, just on a very…….casual basis, so I did a little bit of that, but basically I was just living on…..on income support basically, but I was very active; I kind of thought of it as like ‘well, this is the same as having a grant really, so it allows you to spend all your time pursuing one thing’ so that’s what I did Tony.

TW: Yeah

JO: And I did have, you know, quite a bit of…… know, positive responses to my work so that was encouraging…….so I was showing work, like I said, at….regional art galleries and museums; a number of those institutions bought work for their collections which was a great boost…….it’s kind of like….it’s great to have some money but it’s also the validation that your work’s taken seriously by art professionals and put into context….so that was… know, so that was really encouraging…….I did have……I was given some money by a local……Chamber of Commerce in Huddersfield to go to Amsterdam to have a look at the paintings because I was interested in seventeenth century Dutch painters – Vermeer, Dou - people like that, so I was given a small amount of money to go there and…..just visit the galleries, which was…..great. While I was there I was introduced to….a curator at the…..Amsterdam University…..who was very nice and introduced me to various dealings with people in Amsterdam, took me to some of the exhibitions, and then on my return to Britain…..kept in touch and he invited me to show in the British Council Exhibition which they were having, which was probably a couple of months after the actual visit that I’d made, so that was really encouraging and that was with David Hockney, and that was kind of interesting because…..what I realised was people who are really well known in Britain are not well known in other countries, and you’re actually treated as the same…..sort of calibre, so that……that was really encouraging for a young artist

TW: So you were like the same level as Hockney?

JO: Yeah, because people would say ‘now who is this David Hockney?’ [foreign accent] because they hadn’t read all the publicity or the books and everything, which were all in English and primarily aimed at Britain and the American…….audience I suppose, so those were really encouraging to do that, and a piece of work was bought and that kind of…..covered my initial costs of travelling and doing things like that, so that was a great sort of……really encouraging experience.

TW: Yeah. Do you think if you hadn’t have got that sort of encouragement, you would have carried on painting anyway?

JO: Oh sure yeah, yeah, I was determined to carry on.

TW: Right.

JO: Yeah, yeah, whatever…..and….and during my last sort of years at art college, just prior to graduation, my work had been……exhibited quite a bit in……new artist, new graduate exhibitions and there was a big exhibition at the Sainsbury’s Centre for Visual Arts in…..Norwich, and my work was put in a mixed exhibition there about British art, and new artists, and also at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester; Northern Young Contemporaries it was called at the time, which was again showcasing young artists who were graduating from the regions.

TW: I find that…… you’re talking in the ‘80s then really

JO: Yeah this is kind of like……the graduate….the art college sort of thing were kind of like 1979……to ’80…..graduated in 1980 and then started having shows in like Huddersfield Art Gallery; that would have been about 1981ish, and then the Piece Hall, and I also showed in the Mappin Art Gallery in Sheffield……and places like that.

TW: Yeah. It was a kind of….I mean if you were interested in……Vermeer and Dutch artists

JO: Yeah

TW: It was a little bit out of the ordinary back then wasn’t it?

JO: Yeah it was very fashionable for a young…..artist to be interested in a figurative work, an historical work……so yeah, that was a bit out of kilter with things…..on that sort of front, but….

TW: But it doesn’t seem to have hindered your progress by getting these……I mean the British Council and the Chamber of Commerce and these bigger galleries

JO: Yeah…..yeah, people seem to respond to the work which was, you know, great…..

TW: Yeah

JO: you know, without any…..

TW: So did you always have this interest then in……in Dutch paintings shall we say, or did you graduate to that?

JO: I think I only really became aware of that probably when I was about sixteenish, that sort of age, seventeen when I started reading a little bit more about the history of art and….discovering a little bit more, but I’d always been quite a precocious child and been very visually…..hungry for things.

TW: Right. So why was it…..I mean….cos you do Still Lives don’t you?

JO: Yeah…..yeah

TW: Why did you not… there’s a Spanish school of Still Life

JO: Yeah….yeah

TW: Why did you just…..pick the Dutch over the Spanish for example?

JO: ….it’s hard to say really, I mean…..I was very unaware of Spanish painting; only Cotan and….like Velazquez and Goya, those sort of painters, so I hadn’t really much depth of knowledge about Spanish painting…..and I think that you know, I’ve got sort of an impulse towards the domestic as opposed to……..I don’t want to be too sweeping about this, but I…..quite a lot of Spanish paintings seem to be based around religious subject matter and using the…..Still Life painting as a metaphor for theological…….arguments and……I’m just as naturally drawn towards the more….prosaic world that was… know, that was…..the subject matter of Dutch painting.

TW: Vermeer had lots of…..people in his paintings…….so did you not…..were you not drawn to that side of it as well?

JO: Yeah…..yeah I enjoyed that aspect of it and I think some of my earlier work really was……you know, just graduated….and did use the figure more and……and I did have a period when I was….I did…..a Fellowship which was organised by….by the Arts Council through Yorkshire Arts, and that would have been about ’83…..’84……..and for that I was given a placement for two months to work at a department store

TW: Oh yes

JO: which was kind of interesting, so the brief was you were given this period of time… various locations, and produce some work about that experience, which would be then exhibited and toured…..and I worked that way… while I was working at this store, it was a John Lewis store in… the centre of Sheffield, the city centre, and I spent two months painting and drawing people so it was all about the figure, in the environment, so I…..I kind of enjoyed that; I enjoyed doing that, and it wasn’t something which was, for me, but it was something that I wanted to explore a bit more.

TW: Right.

JO: I also at that time was doing a little bit of teaching at art college which was mainly life drawing, objective drawing and painting, so….I was kind of like in a way interested in depicting the human form.

TW: Yeah……so……I have a few questions really. One is……did that lead on to you painting other… know, sort of larger pictures shall we say…..the human form and… yeah, let’s stay with that one…

JO: Yeah……yeah, no it worked the other way actually Tony; I made more and more smaller paintings, quite intimate paintings, and…..paintings of…….the objects that I lived with that I felt some sort of resonance with, so they could be objects that I’d had for a long time, or I’d got some sort of…….personal association with them, so things like painting shoes, pieces of clothing, which….the kind of the imprint of your body in them; I was kind of interested in…….in you know……in depicting……not the human form but the presence of people; it’s very difficult to explain but….it kind of….it made sense actually for me to work that way, and I was going on instinct rather than……you know, an intellectual straight line.

TW: Right, so there was…..I mean when you talked about Spanish being, you know, metaphor paintings…..did you not try to include that into your own kind of work, that idea of having metaphors

JO: Yeah, I kind of let it happen in a more…..natural sort of way, so… be honest I wouldn’t be too clear about what the subjects were that I was painting, you know…..I might be painting a piece of clothing and not really……..set out to make a painting about…….the frailty of the human body or something like that, and that would come perhaps with the making of the painting and……analysing it afterwards, so my sort of approach is to….be quite instinctive about the subject and…..approach to making a painting, and make sense of it afterwards, and when I’ve looked at a lot of my work over a period of maybe twenty-five, thirty years, I can see really consistent things which run through it.

TW: And what are they?

JO: Yeah, things about light……..certain formal things about composition…….and….I think a kind of……..using objects as metaphors for……the…..human presence in some way……in some way….but you know, I wouldn’t pin it down to….too much; hopefully people can make sense and bring their own associations to the paintings that I make, so…..they’re not titled in a very descriptive way.

TW: So do you use… The Golden Mean as part of your composition or devices?

JO: Yeah that happens but…..but again through an instinctive feel for things……if I have…….harmony and balance, and equilibrium, those sort of emotional…..weights, and if you go for those things you find that those formulae things do happen.

TW: Right

JO: That’s what I’ve discovered anyway through looking at my own work and talking to people, kind of things……

TW: So you weren’t really inspired by the landscape then at all?

JO: I do like landscape and….I love looking at other people’s paintings of landscape, but it hasn’t become a……a central part of my work, but I wouldn’t say it will not become part of my work in the future

TW: Right

JO: and I don’t want to close myself down to anything


TW: Well I’ve noticed that you have……like a great collection of…… ceramic objects

JO: Yeah that’s right

TW: and also……patterned surfaces like cloths and carpets and things like that…so have you….do you collect those because……because of what they are for themselves or are they specifically for the type of work that you do?

JO: I bit of both I think really Tony. I’m naturally…..sort of drawn to…….surface patterns and textures…….and through living with those things…….becoming familiar with them, they present themselves as subjects, so sometimes I might have an object for quite a long time before I actually get round to making a painting with it……but the other side of all that is I might be out and I’ll just buy something spontaneously that just happens to be…..say the fruit and veg shop, I go in and there’s a beautiful plant, or some flowers which are really appealing, and I’ll just buy them for pleasure of it, or with the thought of….a component in something.

TW: Cos you do paint a lot of flowers don’t you?

JO: I do, I do

TW: Do you grow them as well then?

JO: Not very successfully [laughing] some things survive and some things don’t….yeah.

TW: Well when you decide to pick a particular piece of ceramic…..a certain group of flowers, and then put it on a table or a chair of what have you, how do you go about putting those few objects together then… that just a spontaneous thing as well?

JO: I think it is really; I think it is really, yeah…..yeah… takes some time to do it; I do……consciously look at the object and look at the light and shadow from the way these…..components come together, and produce a two-dimensional composition or design…….it varies, I mean my approach can be… have these objects and arrange them spontaneously, and sometimes I might have made some sketches without having the objects in front of me, so almost like rather clumsy doodles, but they’ll give me an idea about….marrying objects together.

TW: ……right……well I’d like to talk about scale then, because…….the work that I’ve seen of yours is quite small scale really

JO: That’s right, yeah….that’s right, yeah

TW: and I mean it’s incredibly detailed your work, so is it the small scale because if you had to do that much detail in a larger one it would take forever, or is it just because you… just like that sort of small size? What is it about, that scale?

JO: Yeah I think it’s…..something about the physicality of…..of scale….you know, an object which you can actually hold in your hands, and examine really closely. What I discovered, you know, when I was quite young and I was looking at paintings in galleries and museums, when I went to big museums and I was looking at paintings that were bigger than my body, I moved away from them… get into a field of vision; when I was looking at a manuscript, or……a small medieval painting, I was drawn really very very close to the… the object…..and as you get closer and closer to an object, you become more aware of the surface and the pattern of the brush marks and textures, and your world becomes……somehow infused with that object, through the physical intimacy of it…..and I thought ‘well this is kind of interesting this; this human impulse to do this’….it’s not a very modern…or a twentieth century sensibility…..but the objects that I was interested in were quite timeless objects….and paintings, you know, so I was getting more interested in early Netherlandish paintings and the paintings of Van Eych and……….yeah, that….that sort of period in painting… it’s a combination of things I think Tony, yeah…..but very much about the physicality of things.

TW: I wondered if you….is it Morandi?

JO: Yeah

TW: Are you interested in his work because he has

JO: I do like some

TW: cos he has all white paintings, with just subtle variations in…..gradations of pale grey

JO: Yeah…..yeah

TW: and you have……there’s a quality of that in some of your work. I just wondered whether he was an influence.

JO: Yeah, I think he would have been……mixed up with lots of other things, but I’ve never consciously tried to….follow that direct path, but yeah I do like that sort of paired down……and quite restricted pallet in that there’s not a great flourish of lots of flashy colours but…again quite sort of muted and……quiet paintings which still you down and make you quite centred.

TW: Sometimes you have a white cloth over a table

JO: Yeah that’s right

TW: with a….like a white bowl on it, then you have a background of this multi-coloured pattern…..kind of like hanging behind it and the contrast of that is quite remarkable really. Is again that something that has just….you instinctively do, or is there a kind of…..a plan of why you contrast those two sort of opposite things?

JO: Yeah, I think it’s a lack of a formal thing, of enjoying contrasts and having a……like you say, quite a sort of patterned or busy…..background against something which is very refined and……very…pure in a way, and I enjoy those sort of contrasts, but it’s something which is…….being in the work and getting more refined and developed over a couple of decades really, over the last twenty-five, thirty years I suppose, so elements remain……through my work over a long period of time; hopefully they get mutated and………develop their own sort of life, hopefully.

TW: Right……you talked about being at Holmfirth in the like early ‘80s

JO: Yeah yeah

TW: ………how long did you……did you move…..when did you move out of that?

JO: I moved…..well I lived there for….in Holmfirth for about…..maybe two years or so, and….it was kind of quite primitive, but it was an interesting place to live at the time, but the actual……place I was living in, the actual house, was quite sort of primitive in that it didn’t have a bathroom or any internal sanitation, which is okay, but I had the opportunity then of moving to somewhere a little bit more salubrious….indoor plumbing, things like that, so you know, I got…..I went along with it

TW: Yeah [laughing]

JO: And that……that came about… know, through personal contacts and things, so….after living at Holmfirth I moved again to the Colne Valley, through necessity and opportunity, so I managed to find somewhere again where I could carry on working and…..and living.

TW: How did you come to move to Hebden Bridge then?

JO: Okay right, well I moved to Hebden Bridge in about…I think it would be 1994… up to that point I’d been living around…..the other side of West Yorkshire, and I was starting to feel like….. ‘yeah I’d like to live somewhere….different’….interesting bit about living in Huddersfield and Holmfirth was……it was culturally such a backwater and such a dull place, there was no distraction from painting; there was nothing more interesting…..which was great, because that’s all I wanted to do, but after a…you know, a while, I started thinking ‘actually I’d rather live somewhere where it’s a bit more switched on and turned on, and part of…..part of…..the general community……and….like many people I came to Hebden Bridge for a day out, to visit Hardcastle Crags….and started coming to The Trades Club to see music……and….I kind of liked the cultural… of the place really, and I’d met one or two people who I had contacts with here who were artists, but….so all these things were sort of coming into play…..and….ready to move somewhere, and as an artist, the kind of artist I am, I can live basically anywhere really; I don’t require a lot of…………material, or a lot of…….particular….I can live anywhere and basically get on with painting; then the more I thought about Hebden Bridge, the more it stacked up in favour, in that…..a beautiful environment……..and a really interesting cultural mix of people…….so a year on I decided to move here; it took a little while to get it together, so…….you know, a couple of months or so.

TW: Right. Was that partly because you were more financially independent?

JO: Yeah, sure. By that time I’d already…….I’d bought a house and had lived in it for six years, and renovated it……so that enabled me to sell that property and buy a property in Hebden Bridge……and the…..the economics of it were pretty much the same really; there wasn’t a great disparity between….property prices in Hebden Bridge as opposed to any other part of West Yorkshire basically, at that time; that was in….

TW: In the nineties

JO: In the nineties, yeah…..yeah, so that enabled me to buy this property where I live now, and…….carry on with my work.

TW: Right. So have you….enjoyed being here then?

JO: Yeah sure; yeah I wouldn’t stay anywhere if it wasn’t fulfilling, so…..yeah, and it’s continued to be an interesting place. What I’ve discovered Tony is…..that it has an interesting throughput of people…….you know, it isn’t a stagnant place; there always seems to be…..people moving into the area, people moving out… it’s got an interesting dynamic to it….but, you know, it still seems to attract people who are interested in creativity

TW: Yeah

JO: which I still find really fantastic; you know, I’ll go to the Post Office or the Co-op or…..and have interesting conversations about art and culture and what’s going on in the world and……other people’s creativity; people who make films or photographers or writers, and that’s just part of the daily…..interaction that we have here…’s actually quite unique really.

TW: Yeah, so……are you part of any kind of artist groups or is this just through individual people that you meet?

JO: Yeah….yeah just people I meet, and there are quite a number of….organised groups of people based around studio spaces….exhibition groups, but I’m not actually part of anything formally like that, but there’s a feeling of solidarity I think…..or I feel that anyway.

TW: Yeah…so you’ve been here getting on twenty years then

JO: Yeah

TW: And have you….noticed changes happening over that period? Not just physical changes, but also……kind of creative attitudes shall we say.

JO: …’s hard to pin down exactly… I said, there always seemed to be a lot of people doing creative work; I think what I’ve noticed over the last…perhaps fifteen years or so is……that people’s ability to… together and organise themselves into proactive groups…..i.e. opening community studios, and there’ve been a number of those which have opened over the years, and they’ve been self-sustaining……which again is really encouraging, so it’s not as if there’s a certain quota of creative people and once they have been satisfied that’s it; I think there’s….you know, it’s continually evolving.

TW: Right.

JO: I don’t know how the economics that we’re living through at the moment are gonna affect that, because you know, in past times there’ve been lots of unloved, unwanted industrial buildings…..but over the last fifteen years those buildings have now become desirable… brackets – executive flats, houses – sort of thing which is great, but it kind of redirects people to….perhaps find workspace or studios out of the centre of Hebden Bridge, and colonising areas of Todmorden and Walsden, which probably have got a similar sort of feel to them, as Hebden might have had thirty years ago.

TW: Right….right…..that’s an interesting one actually.

JO: Yeah, I think…..I think….that’s my sort of feeling, yeah, that there’s still opportunities for people to come in and have creative lives without having a lot of financial backing…..

TW: Well do you think that’s……more younger artists or people who are unestablished as it were?

JO: I think it’s both really Tony; I think it’s….yeah, people who are young, people who might have left college or……just embarking creatively….people who might have worked in conventional jobs – those jobs have come to an end or they’ve retired – and it’s enable people to have more time to pursue those sort of…..those sort of activities, so it’s a combination of….of people involved in creativity - it’s not just the youngsters - there’s all sorts of people, and the calibre of work is really interesting…..what people do.

TW: You…….I mean you obviously exhibit a fair amount….now. How does that work for you? Where do you exhibit then?

JO: Okay right, I basically just work with one gallery called The Portal Gallery…….who are based in London. I’ve shown with them for about ten years…… they’ve shown my work in mixed exhibitions with other artists…….[dealing with equipment]……

TW: You were talking about The Portal Gallery.

JO: Yeah, that’s the gallery showing my work at the moment, so they’re very involved in……showing at mainly the London Art Fairs, which are…..they’re kind of like trade fairs for the Art world; they tend to be short….short-lived things, perhaps four or five days, whereby……perhaps forty, fifty galleries will show their work together in one space, and so it’s great for clients in that if you’re interested in painting or interested in contemporary art, you go to an event like that and you see a whole range of work, and it’s great for the galleries and the artists because they all have conversations with….with each other, alliances are made, works talked about, sometimes bought, sold between dealers, and… that’s quite an important part of the London Art scene at the moment.

TW: Right.

JO: Those have been….those sort of Art Fairs have probably been going since the late 1980’s but have developed a lot…..have become a lot more developed over the last number of years. There are a number of Art Fairs in other parts of Britain, but not as successful as the London ones, but the Glasgow and Edinburgh Art Fairs are still quite important. For some reason the ones in Manchester and the midlands have not really taken off as well, for whatever reason I don’t know.

TW: So do you… you exhibit with…..on your own or with anybody else, or are you kind of exclusive to that gallery?

JO: I….I’m not exclusive to that gallery, but I don’t produce a great deal of work; I’m quite a slow worker, so I don’t have the pressing need to……to….show… look for opportunities to show lots of work because….you know, I only produce a small number of pieces of work throughout the year. Each piece of work can take a number of weeks or months to work on and I work on just one piece at a time, so…..yeah, that’s just the nature of what I do, that way of working.

TW: So there’s no pressure on you from this gallery to……do any other kind of work?

JO: I’m quite resistant….to pressure, and they’re happy to go along with that.

TW: Right, okay…… were showing me some work upstairs which was…..there are finished paintings and then the one that you’re actually working on now

JO: That’s right, yeah.

TW: and what I noticed was that on the one you’re working on now, you’re actually painting the…..the actual still life, the flowers and vase and what have you

JO: Yeah

TW: first and then like the background like comes later; I don’t know if you do that every time; I’m curious about how you actually go about it.

JO: Yeah, yeah….I think that kind of comes about through the nature of using……living objects…..and so the flowers that I’m painting are continually changing and…….in front of my eyes, so there’s a sense of urgency to try and capture that….you know, so I do want the objects to have a sense of life and dynamism about them, so……I will make some small, very quickly made sketches using water colours, which I do very very rapidly, and it makes me simplify the…..complex objects in front of me, because I have to get it down really quickly, and use a……a material which stops me getting too…….hung upon detail on the surface, so I enjoy…..find it useful to have very rapidly make sketches…..with me while I’m working on a more…..what I feel of a more resolved painting, which… know, the painters which make use of panels and things, so I enjoy and find it necessary to have these sketches and……of an object, of things around it while I’m making a final painting.

TW: Right. So did you use…..I know you paint in acrylics now. Did you used to paint in oils or have you always painted in acrylic?

JO: No, I started using oil paints probably when I was about eleven or twelve, and then….I don’t think I’d started using acrylic paints until I was perhaps about seventeen….sixteen or seventeen, and I think we were encouraged to use acrylic paints for one of the projects I was doing on the Foundation course, and it fitted in with the……you know, the regime of working in an art college situation, in that acrylic paints dry very very quickly, so you can complete things within… know, a short session of time.

TW: Yeah. Like traditionally, with water colour it’s always light to dark and with oils it’s…in theory dark to light isn’t it

JO: Yes can do yes

TW: whereas with acrylic you can do both really can’t you?

JO: That’s right and that’s what I enjoy, Tony…

TW: It’s kind of more adaptable in that… that way

JO: It is, yeah, so it’s got lots of affinities with water colours in that you can use it very very lightly, very sketchily, and use…….the transparency of the paint itself to allow….to create feelings of….of light and tonal contrasts.

TW: Yeah…..yeah…..right…….do you just go out… sketching with a pencil?

JO: A little bit……..I’ve got a camera as well which I like using; I’ve got a little digital camera.

TW: Oh right

JO: Not a very sophisticated one, but, you know, good enough to just capture things, so that’s…..that’s been really useful.

TW: So is that for like flowers and……things like that?

JO: Yeah, and for things where there’s a transit to the ……arrangement of shadows and light, which is very fleeting, and cameras are great for capturing something like that, or…..getting the essence of things.

TW: Yeah, and do you use those when doing your paintings then?

JO: I will do yeah, I mean…..especially for things like plants and flowers…..cos quite often, you know, I might be painting say…..a bouquet of flowers, which actually……opening and becoming their most… know, their most beautiful at different points during the painting, so……the actual final painting is……not exactly a true representation or a snapshot of the actual bouquet, but an accumulation of my experience of being with that….group of….of flowers and blooms. Over a length of time then I’ll construct this…..almost like a fantasy I suppose, but based on observation.

TW: Right. That’s an interesting point

JO: So it’s……it’s a combination, you know, of the real and me just going off on one [laughing] or drifting into whatever, but, you know, I wanna make paintings which have…….a feeling of…..solidity about them.

TW: Have you ever tried tempera?

JO: Yeah I did do a very very long time ago; that would have been in the late seventies when I was at art college, and it’s kind of interesting…….yeah, I enjoyed trying it but I enjoyed the…..the liberation of using the acrylic paints in that you can work so quickly with them, and…..and they’re very forgiving; you can kick ‘em about quite a bit [laughing]…..really…..really, so they’ve got a robustness to them which I…..which I enjoy as well, but also you know, an ability to be……..very precise and….very controlled, so I enjoy…..all those aspects Tony.

TW: Yeah…….you were talking earlier about… your compositions, and having things balanced and looking for light and that sort of thing, and… you were just talking about effects of shadows and what have you

JO: Yes

TW: which makes me think of mood

JO: That’s right

TW: so is that a component you try to put into some of your pictures, this aspect of mood, sort of thing?

JO: Yeah, but the……less you try the more successful you are I think.

TW: Oh right

JO: So it is an important thing but I don’t sit down and go ‘okay I’m gonna go for this emotional tone’, and let it sort of evolve and I have enough confidence in my sensibilities to just go along with that, and……hopefully make sense of the painting at the end when I think I’ve finished it, so it might end up looking a little bit gloomy or a little bit morose, but it might not have started out that way [laughing]

TW: So it’s not like a film maker who would actually frame up a whole series of pictures or images that belong together to create a particular…..kind of atmospheric…..whether it’s scary or…..mysterious or what have you; yours just kind of develops as you carry on, sort of thing?

JO: I think so, I think so, I think so, but, you know, it’s really hard to be objective about these things Tony.

TW: Yeah

JO: That’s what I think I’m doing….I could be doing something quite different [laughing] …. or it might appear quite different……

TW: Are there any sort of…… influences over the past say…..three or four, five years or something, rather than this Dutch side of things? Is there anything new that you’ve tried to introduce into your work?

JO: ………

TW: Or are you just trying to perfect or improve what you’ve been doing?

JO: ………I suppose it’s….I suppose there is a degree of……of wanting to go a little bit further with each painting……and to, you know, make things a little bit more resolved or perhaps pursue one area that becomes… know, fascinating to me……I’m quite instinctive Tony about that……so

TW: You won’t do a lot… a series of two or three pictures about a particular subject?

JO: Well maybe more, maybe more. I mean in some of the objects that I’ve….subjects that I’ve used like say, a particular chair, I might have been painting that…..that particular chair for the last…..thirty-two years or so, yet each time I do it, it appears fresh to me

TW: Right

JO: and if it doesn’t appear fresh to me, I won’t do it.

TW: Right

JO: You know, if it isn’t exciting for me, so even though my subject matter might be terrible narrow, it’s thrilling to me.

TW: Yeah……

JO: And if it isn’t interesting or thrilling to me, I haven’t got the interest in it, and I don’t see why anybody else should be interested if I’m not interested, so you know, why make things that aren’t interesting to yourself? So that’s my kind of approach to things, you know, so it’s quite… I think instinctive……things which excite me.

TW: Yeah…… there something…..I don’t know…..say music or…..poems or things like that that you kind of…..also… a sublime sort of way, kind of influence how you go about things?

JO: I think so, yeah, I mean I enjoy music and I do listen to music when I’m actually painting…….but it’s a kind of subliminal thing I think sometimes because I have music and I might play the same piece of music for…..six or seven hours…….so I’m not really listening to it I don’t think

TW: Yeah

JO: otherwise it would be a bit repetitive, but it… somehow……chews into the feeling I have at that time, you know…….

TW: Right

JO: so…….yeah I do enjoy music a lot; I do enjoy music.

TW: Right……..I’m coming back to the idea of living in Hebden Bridge ….

JO: Yeah……yeah

TW: ……..I find it really interesting that you were saying that……like say twenty years ago or more, there was this little cluster of creative activities going on in Hebden and now that’s kind of like built and it’s spreading further down the valley in various directions

JO: Yeah

TW: …….it’s true I’m sure; I’m sure it’s true and I just…..I wonder, can you kind of like……work out why that is? Is it just this overflow of Hebden or is it something else do you think?

JO: It’s economics I think Tony, it’s economics……in that….Hebden Bridge is a very attractive place to live, and it’s become, because of that, a lot more expensive, so…if you move just a few miles out of the centre of Hebden Bridge, you find that property prices are a lot less, and… I say there’s still a lot of empty industrial buildings which haven’t had anything done to them

TW: Right…right

JO: which you know…..are just begging to be used, and……..there isn’t the economic pressure that there is in the centre of Hebden because of the economics in other areas, and I just accept that as part of….okay yes, it’s got more gentrified; so what? Just find new areas and colonise those, and it seems to be something which…….artists do all over the place. Look at the way that cities get regenerated……..

TW: Right

JO: you know in Britain or in America or… Northern Europe anyway, you find that creative people live in economically cheap places, so they colonise those areas which are not very appealing to a lot of people and create a vibrant life there, and then that……attracts other things to it, so you know, maybe thirty years ago…….South London was like - don’t go there – you know, but you know, I’d lots of friends who lived in Brixton and had studios and things like that, and then you know, the general environment gets improved and….people will live there and open shops, open restaurants and live there, so I can see that as a way that artists and creative people colonise areas and regenerate them and bring life and vibrance into them.

TW: So any predictions about what’s gonna happen to Hebden in the next ten years?

JO: Well……it’s difficult to say but I…..I don’t see why it would change a great deal. I think people still gravitate towards this place who are interested in creativity…..and an alternative way of living, and it still offers those things.

TW: Right

JO: So yeah……. I’m not disillusioned with the place; I find it interesting to see how it’s developing.

TW: Yes, that’s interesting, yeah.

JO: Yeah……yeah……yeah….and it will be interesting to see how the outskirts develop; Todmorden and Mytholmroyd and Walsden and……you know, those sort of areas.

TW: It’s…..well people do say that Holmfirth where you used to live is a kind of an equivalent to Hebden Bridge but…..that’s over in Kirklees side

JO: It kind of took a different turn I think Tony.

TW: I mean how did it, because I don’t really know it that well.

JO: Okay, well right, well that was in 1980……from the late seventies to like the mid-eighties, again it was an abandoned… Pennine town, so there was lots of inexpensive housing……and…..that created lots of opportunities, so people moved there from different parts of the country because it was inexpensive to live there, and so there was a bit more of a vibrant sort of alternative community to it, and it was actually quite an interesting place at that time, so the actual town itself was on a similar scale to Hebden, perhaps a bit smaller, and it was full of book shops…..bric-a-brac shops……wholefood shops… was quite an interesting place. It became more……gentrified and one of the things which did happen which hasn’t happened here, yet, is it became featured in a television programme, so people all over the country who knew the place had never been there.

TW: Right.

JO: And……

TW: Last of the Summer Wine

JO: Yeah, which…..which had been filmed when I’d been there and I just ignored it basically, but it had an impact on the place, and….and brought, you know, quite a bit of wealth to it, but that kind of pushed out the…..the creative people and the……the more alternative side of things, so it’s an incredibly……well-heeled affluent part of West Yorkshire…….but not as interesting as living here, and not as interesting as it had been in the past. Somehow that sort of affluence elbowed out the……. the… for people to have inexpensive, creative lives.

TW: Right……interesting!

JO: Yeah, it’s just… kind of took a slightly different turn.

TW: Right.

JO: And maybe Hebden has actually got a bit more of an alternative identity going before a lot of other places actually. I think people have got switched on to living here perhaps in, you know, the 1970’s.

TW: Yeah…..yeah…..right…..there’s just one question. Which part of Ireland were your family from?

JO: Oh my parents…..they came from….well I suppose it was the outskirts of…..of Dublin…….the town of Celbridge which is on the River Liffey, south of Dublin.

TW: Right.

JO: So they moved to Britain in…..Second World War time….and that was quite a rural place at the time I think where they came from, and I…..I’m not sure but I think like the suburbs of Dublin were sort of growing out to that area and it’s become……less rural.

TW: Well I’m just wondering whether there’s anything I haven’t asked you about that you might wanna talk about.

JO: About Hebden?

TW: Hebden, or your art.

JO: ………no I think you’ve covered a lot of things actually; you’ve covered a lot of ground there Tony.

TW: Yeah, okay, so we’ll call it a day on that one.

JO: Yep that’s fine by me.

TW: Okay well thank you very much.

JO: That’s okay!

TW: I’ll turn that off now

JO: Okay Tony.


About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge

Phone: 01422 844450
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