Tuesday, October 24, 2006


My long-term obsession with the work of the Limerick artist John Shinnors has led me to commission just one more piece to round off my collection - that'll be it I swear. He did a series of scarecrow heads (one of his perennial motifs) that he sold as one lot to Dunloe Ewart about 5 years ago - I was much miffed at the time that he didn't sell them individually but he has agreed to paint me a piece in the same style. So I took myself off to Limerick last Saturday morning to collect the finished article. Commissions are always a bit problematical as you are under pressure to take a painting that you may not like when you see it. It's a bit like a blind date only, in this case, more expensive. So I approached this encounter with some trepidation.

We meet as always at the White House, at the Crescent end of O'Connell Street. This is a fine old bohemian pub with photgraphs of poets and artists lining the walls - and advertisements for various art events everywhere. There's even a framed letter from Robert Graves. There's some poetry event on in the evening and I meet one of the organisers - Gerry O'Brien. He's a gnarled looking character sporting very long hair dyed a reddish colour unknown to nature. Underneath this extraordinary head is a Munster jersey mainly concealed by a multi-coloured cardigan. Nature disclaims him.

Shinnors eventually shuffles in head down in his Lemmy Caution white coat with white pork-pie hat pulled down over the frizz of his remaining hair. I am playing with a black coffee (it's 1.30) but he launches into the Smithwicks. He gets a pint with a half-pint glass on the side - this I discover is for use on his very frequent trips outside for a smoke. He tips a portion of his pint into his half pint glass and out he goes. Strange, eh? He is a man with many foibles. He also goes to the jakes more often than any human being I have ever met. I'd estimate 3 visits for every pint. I would advise him to have his prostate checked but I expect he doesn't need me to tell him.

After an amiable chat we head for his display studio nearby. He does almost all his painting in his home studio, which he keeps very private. He assures me that I will like what I see. He has the painting set up on an easel with light flowing onto it from the large windows. It's a masterpiece - way beyond what I had hoped for. In addition to the stark and ominous image of the scarecrow, there's a wealth of attendant detail - red stitching, flecks of colour and a shadowy mirror image. I had been uneasy about the cost, given his recent auction results, but he comes straight out with a figure that is most agreeable to me. If I flipped the painting tomorrow, I could get twice his asking price.

We head off to Willie Sexton's (an old Garryown hero) to celebrate and after that to South's - another of the many rugby pubs in the city. I see Shinnors for about 50% of the time we are there. He's either out smoking with his miniature Smithwicks, or going for yet another piss. But that's OK, I watch Ulster hammer Toulouse.

We return to his studio eventually and he packs up the painting for transportation. We go back to the White House for one for the road and we run into the multi-coloured Gerry again. We are joined by two amiable old bohemian broilers who are very chatty and amusing about historical art events in Dublin - both seem very familiar with McDaids in the rare old times. It transpires that one of them is the wife of the estimable Jack Donovan.

I head back to Dublin with my precious cargo - taking extra care.