The complicated life story of acclaimed Irish artist Pauline Bewick
Life & Style

The complicated life story of acclaimed Irish artist Pauline Bewick

PAULINE BEWICK, one of Ireland's most acclaimed artists, has had a life that the word chequered barely does justice.

“I was born in Newcastle in England in 1935,” she says. “When I was two my mother Alice Graham Bewick ran away to Ireland after her husband died of alcoholism.”

It’s a complicated story, but Pauline and her older sister Hazel came to know various parts of Ireland and England very well.

“We lived in a workman’s hut - you know, one of those roadside huts - a caravan, a boat, a hotel gate lodge, a castle, and a railway carriage.

"In her later years my mother also lived in a glass house that was used for growing tomatoes. That was in Glendalough.”

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Eventually the family settled on a farm in Kenmare in Co. Kerry.

Pauline’s mother, always known as Harry, didn’t believe in formal education. She was a free thinker, a radical.

Pauline’s education was therefore unconventional, attending ‘progressive’ establishments in England.

“We would be allowed to study what we wanted; so of course I started painting, and that’s what I concentrated on.”

In her teens, Pauline was accepted at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, and after graduation moved to London.

During her time there she illustrated a children's animated television series for the BBC, and also produced illustrations for books and magazines.

On her return to Dublin, to bankroll her painting, she took jobs in singing and acting. In 1957 opened her first exhibition at the Clog Gallery in Dublin.

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She was also immersed in Dublin’s artistic scene - there she met Luke Kelly and formed a relationship with him.

“Dublin was a place where potters, painters and poets drank together and everyone knew everyone."

Subsequently Pauline married, and then leaving her husband at home, travelled across the world with her two children Poppy and Holly.

Her work is drawn from her adventures during spells in Wales, Tuscany, Turkey, China and the South Pacific.

For more than 70 years Pauline has represented her life through various forms of art, from painting to pottery.

These, and her sketchbooks, have recorded not just her observations, but her intellectual interpretation of what is going on round about her. Her life, basically, has been her inspiration.

“I don’t really have an artist who has been a huge influence on me. To be honest, probably my mother was my biggest inspiration.

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"She encouraged me all the time; like, when I was at school she didn’t make me do my homework or housework; instead she'd let me paint. She'd let it all flow out of me.”

Now 83, Pauline has recently suffered a stroke.

“I now have a new thing happening in my brain. An unknown dark area in my brain has come to life...my paintings now come from all sorts of subjects. I just paint them, then try to analyse them afterwards.”

The stroke has left Pauline with a few physical ailments, but they haven’t affected her ability to paint.

“All difficulties disappear because I’m so interested, so excited in what I do.

“Before I had a stroke I would paint in a similar way, just letting it pour out. I’m not what you’d call an intellectual painter.

Pauline Bewick is probably best known for The Yellow Man, a series of work that represents a certain lifestyle and philosophy.

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She first exhibited the collection in the RHA in Dublin in 1996. Around that same time she also started drawing The Grey Man.

That came about, according to Pauline, because she was seeing a therapist at the time. During a session with her, she did a drawing that appeared as a dead figure.

Going through the process of analysis she realised it was her father, who had abandoned her.

Pauline Bewick’s distinctive, sensuous style of art has divided critics.

But then that is what art should be about - making bold statements through your work, and challenging people to think about the meaning.

Creativity needs courage - something that Pauline has an ample supply of.

As part of the Mayor of London's St Patrick's Festival the Pauline Bewick Art Exhibition runs until March 21 at City Hall, The Queen's Walk, London SE1 2AA.

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