John Sheehy

Studio Voltaire presented the first institutional exhibition of works by John Sheehy (b. 1949, Ireland). Sheehy, who lives and works in London, began painting at the age of 51 and over the past 18 years has produced an expansive body of work that includes printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, playwriting, poetry and music. While formally, Sheehy’s paintings range between portraits, landscapes and the purely abstract, they most often foreground personal or biographical recollections, evoking the artist’s travels and his native Ireland.

Sheehy has described the physical act of making as central to his practice, underlined by the accelerated pace at which he produces work. Even the artist’s most complex and ambitious paintings take under an hour to complete, and Sheehy is often only limited by the availability of materials to hand, from canvas and paper to roof tiles, furniture and found objects. Single subjects may be rendered again and again over a period of weeks or months, with an energy that suggests the artist’s urgent need to capture or perhaps, expel these images. Importantly, while Sheehy’s practice comprises thousands of images and words, he considers it to be a single and total narrative.

With reference to both rural Ireland and London street scenes, Sheehy’s works detail seemingly familiar or everyday moments. Convivial activities are similarly foregrounded, with fiddlers, singers and communal suppers. Sheehy frequently returns to vernacular subjects which might initially appear folksy – sailing ships, closely terraced houses, shoe–shiners and chimney sweeps – but when repeated across numerous works they gain a talismanic, otherworldly character. In particular, the recurring image of a watchful rider on horseback functions as a dominant representation of the artist himself.

Within these repeated motifs there is a persuasive sense of Sheehy bearing witness to past events, all the more potent in works which explicitly address sites or acts of ritual and commemoration. Rather than nostalgic, Sheehy’s works are a record of lived experience, cumulatively insisting on the artist’s own presentness.

Only a fraction of Sheehy’s complete body of work can be shown at any point in the show’s duration. This first institutional survey of his work was presented on a large-scale display system that allowed the presentation to change and evolve. The initial iteration was selected by Director Joe Scotland in conversation with Mark Amura of Crisis Arts and the artist. Further selections were made by curator Linsey Young, writer Amy Sherlock, and artists Aaron Angell, Jeremy Deller and Clifton Wright.

In the final weeks of the show Sheehy returned to Studio Voltaire where the artist was invited to create a work in-situ, completely transforming the exhibition space into large-scale painting backdrop.

Supported by the Studio Voltaire Benefactors.

Exhibition design by Simon Jones Studio.

The artist would like to thank Mark Amura, Joe Scotland, Nicola Wright, Callum Whitley; Michele Chowrimootoo, Islington Mind Music; Lorna Coxall, Outpost; Paula Lonergan, Crisis, Skylight London; and Jan Noble, notyouraveragetype.

  1. Artist and writer John Joseph Sheehy (b 1949. Ireland) lives and works in London. Solo exhibitions in- clude: No Time for Tears, Outpost, London (2016); An Introspective, Atom Gallery, London (2015); Through My Hand, Outpost, London (2015); The Colours Choose Me, The House Gallery, London (2014); and Dreaming With My Eyes Open, Novas Gallery, London (2008). Group exhibitions include: Heretics: An Introduction to Outsider Art, Redwing Gallery, Penzance (2015); and Urban Networks, Courtauld Institute, London (2003).

  2. 4 May–16 May 2017

    Joe Scotland, Mark Amura and John Sheehy

    17 May–23 May 2017

    Jeremy Deller (Artist)

    24 May–30 May 2017

    Aaron Angell (Artist)

    31 May–6 June 2017

    Linsey Young (Curator of Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain)

    7 June–13 June 2017

    Amy Sherlock (Deputy Editor, Frieze Magazine)

    14 June–18 June 2017

    Clifton Wright (Artist)

    21 June–25 June 2017

    Nicola Wright and Callum Whitley

  3. Linsey Young, Curator of Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain in conversation with artist Clifton Wright, 14 June 2017

  4. John Sheehy, Studio Voltaire London 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Studio Voltaire. Photo: Andy Keate

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