When the Celt arrives at the Moth Studio, Will’s just finished his morning’s toil at the easel. He’s pleased with the progress, as the hovering plastic sparrowhawk, suspended from the ceiling by wires is echoed in the muted blues, greys and olive green on his canvas board. The replica bird is usually deployed by people concerned to keep birds away from their veg or fruit, or whatever.
“It’s my son Ralph’s,” explains Will. “He has it hanging in his room normally. I just like it, I think it’s a cool thing.”
As we’re both forced to look skywards, as we would a real raptor, the Celt notes it’s an interesting perspective.
“It’s a really foolish one to try to do,” observes Will. “I don’t know why I made life so difficult. I’ve struggled with this one but I’m just going to leave it as it is.”
The way he’s leaving it conveys an authentic representation that rejects photorealism in favour of his own vision. It still includes the threads forever halting the sparrowhawk in midflight.
“The strange lines, just seems to hold it in place somehow... Somehow I like the structure of it and the depth it gives it somehow, just the perspective.”
It’s a common response Will volunteers - it’s what he likes. Primarily objects he paints are simply ones that he likes the look of, painted in colours he likes, and in a manner which he likes. In that way, overt themes may prove elusive to a viewer, yet the images still speak volubly of the artist. The lion’s share of the 20 or so works to make up the (still being created) display will be still life paintings. This is in part due to the advantages working with objects in a controlled environment - “You can get up really really close, and really look at something” - and in part because the subjects pique his interest.
“It’s all very well saying I’m going to paint, but what are you going to paint? And that’s the thing. You just can’t sit down and paint something.”
That question has been answered a few times by plundering “a cabinet of curiosities” at his Drumlane home. It contains “artefacts and wildlife that we find around the place”, he says – the “we” being himself, wife Rebecca who’s also his other half when it comes to his hugely respected arts magazines, The Moth, and its offspring, The Caterpillar aimed at nascent readers.
The only other work from the forthcoming exhibition which the Celt has seen, and which provides the display’s title is ‘Shark With Plunger’.While the stuffed shark currently lurks in the depths of his cabinet of curiosities, the couple originally stumbled upon it in a London antique shop.
“I wouldn’t be one for taxidermy, I wouldn’t like to encourage people to kill wild animals, but I was assured this shark was an antique. Anyway, we bought it - it wasn’t very expensive. I was disturbed to find that the following week when I went into the shop there was one exactly like it sitting there,” he says laughing at the underhandedness of the vendor, the real shark in the story.
The addition of the plunger reveals a penchant for the surreal. “I just liked the strange juxtaposition,” he says.
“Curiously enough,” he says pausing for thought. “I like the composition, but it then reminded me of this thing that I saw which left a lasting impression on me: when we were kids my sister and I were on a small boat crossing the English Channel, and we saw a dead basking shark, and it was next to a big marine buoy – the shark had choked on this huge piece of plastic sheeting.
“Anyway that image always stuck with me, so overwhelmingly I like the composition of that, and I thought it was kind of funny as well, but maybe in a subliminal kind of way I was thinking of it - I don’t know.”
While he admits to being deeply concerned about nature he’s careful not to attach too much significance to animals informing the works.
“There’s basically an animal theme to me, so inevitably there are animals featuring in the exhibition – I’d like to say there’s something profound about that, but it’s just because I’m interested in animals, I’m not making a statement or anything.”
Rejecting the aim to “render something that you see exactly”, his preference is for the input of the artist to create “something different”. There’s almost a mysticism in how Will can arrive at a desired destination through intense viewing, reworking and “struggling” with the image.
“Sometimes you come to that by pure accident... suddenly something happens and you think: actually that works and I’ve finished with that. Instead of completing it somehow.”
He speaks of “constantly putting stuff on and scraping it off because it’s just an exercise in looking”.
Close examination of the sparrowhawk canvas before us, reveals the “wrestling with it and redrawing” isn’t wasted in the final composition.
“There’s something I like about the accumulation of work on an image – so I love oil painting, because the paint layers build up. I also use my fingers and charcoal, and that patina is built up on the board – I like to use a panel, so you can get quite rough with it rather than a canvas.
“I hope that lends a kind of energy to the image. If you draw something exactly it can kind make it static.”
Will and Rebecca, who’s originally from the outskirts of Cavan Town, have made the county their home for the last decade. Their return from London was supposed to herald a great outpouring of art and writing, but they have long busied themselves by facilitating other people’s creative endeavours.
“The idea was that we’d come to Ireland and I would paint and Becky would write; and then the need to make a living was very apparent so – the children and starting the Moth magazine just took over,” says the dad of three. “Unlike Becky who can do loads of different things at once, I find it very hard to just dip into painting, along with doing everything else. Although I kept my eye to a certain degree having different workshops and sessions, the painting was just on the back burner.”
Becky got her first novel, the acclaimed ‘He is Mine and I have No Other’ published last year. Was that a moment where you said, okay she is a writer, time to paint?
“I think when the business became more established as well. And when my youngest child Nancy going to school as well, I had no excuse. And certainly Becky achieving her creative endeavours, and also Becky not giving up on me, you know in terms of always saying, ‘Well when are going to do some painting?’ - you know encouraging me to paint. I wouldn’t have done this had she not kept on believing in me.”
Rebecca wasn’t the only source of encouragement.
“Ralph, my youngest son said to me last year: ‘When I grow up I want to be an artist like you’. I just thought, my God, I’ve got to do some painting,” he says with a hearty laugh.
Will received support from Catriona O’Reilly of Cavan Arts, and more than anything the deadline for the July 18 launch has provided both an effective stick and carrot. He hopes that having this “cohesive body of work” will provide a basis from which to continue painting.
“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for me it is a big deal, and I love Cavan,” he says with genuine affection. He speaks of the inspiration he gets from the artists with whom he shares the Moth studio.
How do you feel about exposing yourself, by putting work up on the wall?
“It’s weird isn’t it,” he says giving it consideration. “I don’t know – ask me on the night. It’s very odd. I’m mainly concerned with what my kids will think of it,” he says laughing.
Just like he’s reworking a painting, he considers the question again and gives it another stab, one that will remain:
“Ultimately I want to be happy with the work – I think that’s the main thing, because I know myself if I think it’s good. I want to be able to look around and think, actually, that’s not bad. That’s what I want.”