Artistic License With Donald Teskey RHA

Penny McCormick talks to IRISH ARTIST Donald Teskey about his LATEST EXHIBITION of work …


Donald Teskey’s artworks and images of Ireland are instantly recognisable. Originally from Co Limerick, his works can be found in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Hunt Museum Limerick, The Office of Private works as well as corporate and private collections around the world. As a landscape painter par excellence he works on a large scale creating powerful images that reverberate with energy and the elemental force of nature. His new exhibition at the Oliver Sears gallery is One River, One Creek, and combines a local perspective of Mayo and Sligo with a broader view. He spent time at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania where Crum Creek has been described as “a slow moving waterway with its own sense of wilderness.”

Your new exhibition One River, One Creek unites the view from your studio with your residency at Swathmore College in Pennsylvania. How long was this exhibition in progress?

When I received the request from the List Gallery at Swarthmore College that they would like to host an exhibition of my work for November 2017 and at the same time invited me to do an artist residency exploring the adjacent Crum Woods and Creek, it prompted me to consider how I might prepare for the challenge ahead as I would be facing a completely different set of visual elements when compared to the rocky coastline of north Mayo. So, in June last year I began a number of paintings focusing mainly on the shapes and textures of the riverbank near my studio. I’ve lived near the Dodder for a good part of my life and have made paintings exploring the Dodder valley at several points throughout my career. The work I subsequently made in Pennsylvania in October and November turned out to be very complementary to its Irish counterpart even though they have a very different feel.

You have travelled widely with residencies in Connecticut and Paris – how have these impacted on your artistic process?

I discovered early on that I respond very well to the experience of a residency. I approach each new experience as a project with challenges that need to be overcome and problems to be solved and the process involved requires really concentrated observation and plenty of trial and error. A new residency should facilitate a new development in an artist’s work. With the recent residency in Swarthmore, it was the anticipation of it that prompted a new approach, which facilitated a transition in the work in the current exhibition.

Tell us a little about the collaboration with Derek Mahon and his anthology Rising Late.  Does poetry often inspire your work?

Not directly. My impulse to paint is largely primal, coming directly from observation and from the visible world. The process that transforms the base materials into an image is largely intuitive and has no narrative. In order to contextualise new works, I might look into Mahon or Heaney, for example, for lines or words that seem to draw parallels with a new painting or group of paintings. It’s not always necessary however. With Rising Late, I chose to respond directly to the imagery Derek Mahon evokes in nearly all of the poems. Each painting is a self-contained response to an individual poem. Overall I hope I was able to reflect the diversity and the vibrancy of his wonderful poetry.

How do you work – al fresco or mainly in your studio?

I work mostly in my studio as the scale of my canvases makes it impractical to work on location in most situations. When I’m on residency and weather and the situation permits, I will work outdoors in front of nature. I usually work on a smaller scale with acrylics on paper, which I find much more practical medium when traveling. The experience of working outdoors greatly informs the studio practice. That sense of urgency and immediacy that comes with working in the elements is something that stays with you.

Have you had any mentors or muses in your artistic career?

Not mentors as such. I suppose the closest would be when I was a student and having painters such Barry Cooke, Charlie Tyrrell and Brian Bourke as visiting artists. Each in their own way exemplified the rigour and dedication to artistic practice which was something I aimed towards in my own work and most importantly, pushed me to establish an individual voice as a young artist in the 1980s.

What are you working on next? 

I have the immediate target of getting new work ready for the RHA annual exhibition, which opens in May. Also I’ve had some proposals for exhibitions that I’m considering and that inevitably means either picking up an existing thread or embarking on an entirely new project which is what I would prefer.

Need to know: One River, One Creek, runs until March 15 at Oliver Sears Gallery;

Penny McCormick

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