Irish artist Dede Gold’s work has been commissioned by royalty and the racing fraternity and hangs in some of the most prestigious galleries in the world. Yet her creative journey, from legal eagle to easel, would not have happened had she not been inspired by a chestnut dalmation, Ralph, as she documents in her new book, a guide for those changing careers …
To clarify, I didn’t intend to be a painter at all. Growing up in Waterford in the mish-mash culture of the 1980s I loved to doodle, sketch, daydream, but no more than anyone else. Mr Garbett’s art classes in Newtown School were always a highlight but they were my downtime – my escape time, away from the serious subjects I needed to focus upon for that important career ahead. School was a wonderful incubator for a closet creative like me – the arts oozed in its Quaker ethos and curriculums – and the encouragement to plough your own furrow was strong. Teenage me got slightly confused in my furrows. I remember excusing myself from an impromptu nature walk with Mr Pim to swot anatomy in the library – “bigger picture” is my note to my 17-year-old self. Inspiration was not going to be found in the dry text of Bones Are Us. I take that nature walk these days.
My brilliant parents worked hard to put me through Trinity College, then Blackhall Place studying to be a solicitor. On qualifying, I moved to London to practice corporate law. That time was exciting, exhausting and exhilarating, but mostly anxiety-making. Was it ever really me? I don’t think so … Emerging from the tube station on Monday mornings, I would always pick up a bunch of blush pink flowers to break the titanium tough environment of the week ahead.
It can’t have been easy getting the 2am call from my office bouncing the (high-pitched, slightly deranged) idea of packing up my desk and not going back. “I didn’t bring up my lovely daughter to be working these mad hours – there’s a better life for you – get out of there – goodnight,” was Dad’s divine response. They still find bottomless reserves of support for my U-turns, remaining stoic, if constantly a little surprised.
Waiting for Dogot
Marrying three days shy of my 30th birthday I had, optimistically, little doubt about my happy ever after. I moved to Newmarket, where I rode racehorses instead of the underground in the mornings. While others were studying the form I was studying the beauty of the animal, and pinching myself to be stepping into Munnings moments [equine painter Alfred Munnings] on a misty morn.
Four years later, cupid crashed, and I needed to start over again. I returned to the lovely Dublin law firm of my formative “Articles” years, which enabled me to get back on my own two feet. However, I teetered in those shoes. My skin went to pot, my head ached and I found it hard to (ever) sleep. Recognising when something wasn’t working anymore (dear Law – it wasn’t you, it was me) I exited stage left to art school and to a life in my brushstrokes instead.
Training in portraiture – briefly in Florence, then London – my early daubings were deadly. My sitters looked dead upon the canvas which was not the result I was going for. In truth I had some very dark times that year with the feeling I was failing on all fronts. I found myself a fabulous therapist. And then I found the dogs.
These were the people who spoke to me – and not one of them had two legs. They had open souls, were loving-full and judgement-free, many having their own crooked-ear-days. A bounding liver-chestnut dalmatian was my gamechanger. I wanted more than anything to catch the feeling he gave me – that polka-dotted magical energy – this was inspiration! And it all switched up from there.
Life has a way of shimmying us in the right direction when we are open to the experiences (and polka-dots) it offers. Be brave. If you have an urge to travel – do your best to make it happen. I was cash short and time long (the rest of my life?) so I did a flat swap to Manhattan, and it was life-changing. It flipped my post-divorce “poor-me” psyche to the infinitely preferable “it’s all to play for” reboot. Plugging into that New York energy was the live wire I needed – a people-centric city where everything felt possible, and I realised it was.
Curiouser and Curiouser
That trip was the beginning of my book. It started as notes to myself for mindset adjustments when I needed to regain clarity/loosen up/put into context what my work was going through. I often think that addressing a blank canvas is like teeing up that tiny golf ball – what could possibly go wrong? I came to learn – bunkers later – that when it’s not working it’s often when something is changing, that is needing changing, or more specifically evolving. Like my vertiginous lawyer shoes – the “what was me yesterday” chestnut – now I know that to be growth.
The point is, creative life (Life!) is never linear. The latter is a double vodka conversation – the first I do my best to iron out in my book. At times I have felt like my painting and I were in a frustrating relationship and we needed a solid couples counsellor to make it work. I started off my art as my therapy, and ended up needing therapy for my art. Learning how to ride the rough days to reach new levels, and how to make the most of those new levels when I got there (even briefly – anyone worth their creative salt knows the snakes and ladders playout of the processes).
We do what we do with natural instincts and gusto and then hang our work (ourselves) out there to be judged on the great dart board of life. We must be mad. We need resilience, and self-belief for the tough days to get us through. If diving in fully, we also need to shape up our business savvy. The “let’s just see how it goes lads” scenario doesn’t cut it – you need your ducks-in-a row hat on for this.
One Posh Pointer
Has a mid-life jeté from legal to easel been an easy ride? Try “interesting” instead … Is it easy (or wise) to place your financial wellbeing as a single girl on your creative output? You’ve got to be kidding. The painting gods sent me a glorious break when I was up against it early on; an old friend popped in for a cuppa bringing his old friend who happened to be a kindly BBC Dragon. He wonderfully (for me – not them) removed the ancestors from his dining room walls, replacing them with four of my dogs instead. I had the money to keep eating while painting for my first big solo show. We need to eat so generally we need sensible game plans and solid foundations underpinning our fabulous dreams. Would I do it again? Absolutely yes. But with a heck of a caveat: that I knew back then what I have now come to know. And hence the book.
Am I Pretty?
I hope my experiences will help others on their own way. It’s not just for those in the arts, it’s really a book about following the nudges life is giving you to thrive in your own life. And maintaining your wellbeing en route. It is the book I wish someone had written for me – I might have handled the obstacles I struggled with better along the way.
How are we getting along now? I think we have settled in nicely together. I moved from finding solace in my art to giving it centre stage in my life. Since then, I have had the joy to paint for the Duchess of Cambridge and a future King, for racing royalty aplenty, and for my childhood favourite Hollywood royal, Dame Julie Andrews, too. My work features alongside that of my painting heroes on the bookshelves of the major galleries of the world in Angus Hyland’s beautiful The Book of the Dog. This feels a far cry from the daisy chains I made back in The Deise.
We follow our core creativity because that is a feeling of coming home to ourselves again, and I reckon that’s a good place to be. As is Ireland. I am moving back this year, leaving my 40s behind but bringing with me the lessons they have taught me. I look forward to this chapter no end. The more I have travelled, the more I appreciate the treasures I have back home. I’m sure that makes me a cliché – but I’ll take that one. PS – Plan B’s can be wonderful too.
The Creative, Covered by Dede Gold, €17.99, is available from www.thebookcentre.ie. She will be launching her book and new giclée prints at the Solomon Fine Art, Balfe Street, Dublin 2 on June 7; www.dedegold.com.
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