Every now and then I come across an artist who I think would be great to showcase on Baha’i Blog’s images section. I reach out and hope they reply. While I wait, my selfishness increases because the more I contemplate their work, the more I get lost in it, and the more eager I become to hear them talk about it. Gerry O’Mahoney is no exception and I am thrilled that he was willing to share a small collection of his work as well as some words about what inspires him, what lies beneath the surface of his paintings, how he became a Baha’i, and what words of encouragement he might offer anyone else thinking of becoming an artist:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m from Limerick, a city in the south-west of Ireland. When I was growing up, I was more interested in sport than in art. In primary school, art really wasn’t considered; it was occasionally used almost as a reward. The only contact I had with art was in an after-school boys’ club. We did drawings on newsprint paper, which I found very boring.
When I was 16, I had the option of taking art classes at school, instead of Latin, which I liked. Strangely, I now found that I really liked art. This was due in most part to the teacher, who made it interesting and alive. He brought in his own work and we sometimes copied it; at other times we made posters for things like the school hurling competitions. Although this art class was discontinued the following year, I decided I wanted to continue with art, so I took after-school classes, and when I left school I was lucky to secure a place at LSAD (Limerick School of Art and Design).
I heard about the Baha’i Faith when I was 18, while still at art school. At the time (1971), there was a lot of talk amongst young people about this new religion. I met someone who invited me to a fireside and I went along thinking, “There’s no way anyone will convince me that Christ wasn’t who he claimed to be.” I came out of the fireside thinking that I wanted to hear more. The next fireside was given by Adib Taherzadeh, and his talk reinforced for me that “there is something here.” I became a Baha’i after two months.
Coming from a very Catholic background, to become a Baha’i was a major change, because in Limerick particularly, (which had a very strong confraternity church influence) no-one ever missed mass. Many young people in Limerick became Baha’is at around this time; it was a very exciting time.
Following art school, I taught art for a couple of years at second level, before accepting an opportunity to serve at the Baha’i World Centre, initially for a year. I loved it so much I stayed for almost three. Working at the BWC in the late 70’s was an amazing experience. At that time there were only about two hundred people working there and it was a very close-knit community. This experience has a very special place in my heart. While in Israel, I saw an exhibition of Chinese watercolours that started me painting again.
When I returned to Ireland I lived in many places around the country, before leaving again for a period of service in Malawi in 1986. When I returned to Limerick, I decided I wanted to work full-time as an artist and became a member of an artist collective, and I have painted and exhibited since then. Currently, I live with my wife in County Clare and work from an artist studio in Limerick.
Baha’i Blog: What inspires you?
When I saw the exhibition of Chinese watercolours in Israel, I was awed by both the medium and the style of work. I immediately bought watercolour paints and began to experiment and painted mainly outdoors. When I came back to Ireland, I continued to paint outdoors, but after a while I got tired of the Irish weather and painted mostly in the studio.
Major influences on my work through the years have been Chinese watercolours, the work of Persian calligrapher Mishkin-Qalam, American photographer Ansel Adams, and the effect that words have. These influences, coupled with the colours of the Irish landscape, and my memories of the vivid colours of Africa, impose themselves on my way of working.
Exposed at various times to the unbelievable work of Mishkin-Qalam, I have always been overwhelmed by the grandeur and beauty of his work. Presently I am working on a series using some of this work. The influence may not always be obvious in my work, but it is certainly not too far beneath the surface.
Ansel Adams the American Photographer was a major influence at one time, in particular a photograph of silver birches emerging from darkness. This image had a strong effect on my landscapes and watercolours.
Words or symbols play a large part in my work. Many years ago, a conversation that resulted in a miscommunication, led me to focus on the power of words for good or evil. This is a subject which is at the heart of much of my work. Over the last number of years, I have focused on the story of Plato’s cave, looking at the idea of major paradigm shifts that can transform our thinking or way of being.
Baha’i Blog: What is your creative process like?
I originally painted landscapes; these gradually changed to stylized colourful landscapes. Then words entered the frame, followed over the years by various materials. My work is mainly abstract. I work in layers, using watercolour, acrylics, gold leaf and varnishes. I find that I naturally use archetypal symbols that are common to most cultures. Some pieces take a short period of time, but usually pieces take shape over months, or even years.
I go to the studio almost every day. I work in series and ideas develop. I usually simply begin. I find that when I overthink things the results are often disappointing. Some pieces take several years; it’s a process not an event, and when it’s time to move on, usually I know.
Baha’i Blog: What are some words of encouragement you might give to someone interested in pursuing the arts?
“…Music, Art and Literature, which are to represent and inspire the noblest sentiments and highest aspirations…should be the source of comfort and tranquillity for troubled souls…” – Baha’i Writings.
I believe that all of us are creative in one way or another, and that creativity connects us to the part of us that is divine. You need to bear in mind that you may never make a living from what you love and need to be prepared for often (or always) working at something else to survive while you are working at your craft. That said, the more you work at something you love, the better it gets, and you never know what will open up. “Man is in reality a spiritual being and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy…” – Abdu’l-Baha.
I think the most important thing is to trust your heart and just begin. I have a quote on my wall which has followed me through various studio spaces for years, it has sustained me whenever I felt disheartened: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” – Goethe
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Gerry! You can find out more about Gerry and his work from his website, www.gerryomahony.com, his Instagram account, or his Twitter account.
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