Friday 22 September 2017

Painter Dominique Beyens: 'The laws changed. I was arrested for selling my work on the street. I ended up homeless'

Dominique Beyens (52) is a photographer, a painter and the founder of Eclectic Lens, which specialises in quirky images. Born in Belgium, near Bruges, he has been in Ireland for over 20 years. He lives in Wicklow

Artist and photographer Dominique Beyens
Artist and photographer Dominique Beyens

I'm not really a big breakfast person. Usually I have a bit of yoghurt and some juice. I used to drink coffee until it came out of my ears, but I've started to live a little bit healthier. Now I drink less coffee and I make vegetable juices. I feel all the better for this change.

I live in the Wicklow mountains, and I have my studio here. I'm away a lot, taking photos. But if I'm at home, I might work until 5am and then sleep until midday. I don't need an alarm in the mornings.

I do lots of different things. I never stick to one type of photography. Everything I do is going to be weather dependent. If it is raining, I'll be in the studio, printing, editing and generally organising things. I've developed my own unique way of printing.

If I have an inkling that it's going to be a nice day in the west, I'll hop in the car and just go. I might stay for a few days. I have friends who have a fantastic B&B, and sometimes they let me stay for free. In exchange, I give them a nice work. The great thing about Irish weather is that it might be raining in the west but sunny in Dublin, or the other way around.

I always watch the weather. It's so important for photos. I actually like the Irish weather. I love the skies. Without warning, you can get those magical moments. I know that a lot of people give out about the weather, but I think it's exciting. Even in winter, you get those beautiful days, but you have to be open to it. For me, the sky is almost as important as the landscape. But if it's going to be a grey, dull day there is no point in going out.

I call my company Eclectic Lens because I do a wide range of pictures. I do a commercial range for gift shops and I also do unique limited editions on watercolour paper. They could be an architectural thing or a night-shot in Dublin.

On the other hand, if I'm in the west, it might be a landscape with a flock of sheep or a horse. I always try to get something extra in the picture, something quirky.

I have one photo of a goat with a donkey. The goat was really friendly and he came towards me. It's one of those shots that you could be waiting a whole lifetime for.

Other animals are different. For example, sheep will always run away from you. Once, I had a bull who was getting a bit close to me and it was kind of scary. But I've never got injured. You have to be aware of animal behaviour.

To be a good photographer, I think you need to have lots of patience and you always have to be ready for the shot. I usually work on my own terms. On the odd occasion, I'll do work for other people, stuff like weddings, but you have to stick to what you want to do. You are better off following your own artistic pursuit. Sometimes I'll have a week where I'm not taking photographs and then, all of a sudden, I'm out, and I'll see pictures everywhere. You don't even have to go far.

I came to Ireland in the late 1980s. I was travelling a lot. I had a passion for travel and I always wanted to come to Ireland. I was with my girlfriend at the time. We arrived in the west coast of Ireland, in Kerry. I felt at home straight away.

Back then, you just had black or white coffee, and you were offered milk or cream with it. I loved it all. There was something about the people - nice and friendly, open and curious. I'm from Belgium, near Bruges, and you could call my place the Kerry of Belgium. We had great fun travelling to all the festivals.

When I arrived in Ireland, I was a painter. Up until then I just took photos to give me ideas for my paintings. Later on, I went on to do a degree in photography. Now I would like to do both painting and photography. As an artist, you never want to be standing still. When you sit on your laurels, you die.

I used to sell my work on the streets. Years ago, everyone did that and it was loved by people. But then the laws changed and I was arrested. As a result, I ended up homeless. It was only for a few nights, but I still remember it.

I slept in a little park near Dublin Castle, opposite the Olympia Theatre. It was winter time. That experience changed my attitude about life. But luckily, I found my way out of the situation. I got an artist's studio in an old soap factory and began again. It was cold, but it was a start. I was always determined to do what I wanted to do.

Ireland feels like home now, and I have lots of great friends here. I think my love of travel stems from living so close to the border in Belgium. When I was 14, I hitched to the south of France, stayed there for a couple of days, sent a few postcards and then came home. Years later, my friends and I would often decide to drive to Paris on a Saturday night. Off we'd go, just for a few hours. It was a spontaneous thing; something you can do when you don't live on an island.

I enjoy my work, but being self-employed can be challenging. You have to make sure that the money comes in. I've had relationships in the past, but sometimes my lifestyle as a photographer creates problems. I need to be out and about, and my work is weather dependent. Quite often, I work straight through for 36 hours. I can be so engrossed in my studio that, at 5am, I think it's only 1am. I work long, erratic hours, and then, when I'm finished, I might sleep for a full day.

Dominique Beyens will be exhibiting at House 2017, Ireland's new high-end interiors event taking place in Dublin's RDS from May 26-29, showcasing world-class interiors, art and design. Buy your tickets now at house-event.ie/tickets.

eclecticlens.com

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

House 2017 Ireland's new high end interiors event, Dublin's RDS 26-28 May. Buy tickets at house-event.ie/tickets

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