'Creativity and work are what really keep us young'
Artist Pauline Bewick is a woman not defined by her age, but by her creativity and energetic attitude to life. Aged 70, she has a new exhibition opening this summer, she tells Donal Lynch
Pauline Bewick may no longer be wide-eyed – she's been called a national treasure more than once – but a long life of commitment to art and fun have made her a paragon of aging gracefully.
At a stately 70, she still paints with an almost feverish creativity, is in the process of writing her memoirs and is exhibiting at the annual RHA Summer Show. Although she suffered a small stroke last year, she has kept going and her winning optimism is its own elixir.
She is part of that new breed of older Irish lady who has remained youthful precisely because they do not cleave to some facsimile of their youth. Oscar Wilde once said, one always needs to know which act of life one is going into, and this is something Pauline manages in her own singular fashion. "Old age can be daunting because it is a place we haven't ever visited before," she tells me.
"Things can unravel and you have to see that clearly. I feel sorry for older women when they mistake the kind of attention they get as representing lust and desire. In fact, the kind of attention you get at my age is more like a type of admiration – and I mean that without being bigheaded in any way. It's important not to mix up the two. It is very easy for an older woman to be pathetic, so it's important to be self-aware enough to not let that happen. Nobody wants to be mutton dressed as lamb."
Like all of us, she has her moments of doubt. "I'm a very neat human being. I like things to be tidy. Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and I grab a fold of flesh around my face and I think to myself, 'I wonder what would happen if I got a surgeon to chop this off'. It's as though I would tidy up my face a bit. But then I might mention it to Holly or Poppy (her daughters), or to one of my friends, and everybody says, 'Oh, no, don't do that'. They tell me that when people look at me they don't see the wrinkles."
"And anyway", she adds briskly, "if I did the face I'd have to do the arms – everything has to match. And that seems more bother than it's worth."
If anyone could be forgiven for harking back to her youth, it might be Pauline who had an eventful and bohemian childhood and early adulthood. She was educated in the Cork art school and, after studying at NCAD, travelled to England where she tried her hand at everything from acting and singing to illustrating.
She returned to Ireland, married Pat, a psychiatrist, had two daughters and settled in Co Kerry, all the while building her reputation as one of the state's most acclaimed artists.
However, her wanderlust and desire for adventure brought her to the South Seas where she had an affair with a Maori man called Utonga. Despite the vividness of those memories, and their relevance to the autobiography she is writing, Pauline prefers not to look back. "I prefer to live in the present moment than in the past," she tells me.
"There is too much to do in the present and, if you are not fully immersed in it, you will not understand it. The past may be wonderful but constantly revisiting it in your head is depressing and terribly aging."
While she does not dwell in nostalgia, Pauline tells me that holding on to your youth is just fine, if it's done in the right way. "I'm a victim of that myself. I was in Puerto Ventura recently and we were shown around a factory where this Aloe Vera cream was made. And of course we all – the women and some men – were riveted by the supposed effects of the cream. I bought it and it's no better or worse than all the others."
The real secret, she says, is in the attitude we carry into old age. "Don't moan about your illnesses. Don't be a grouch. Eat healthily – I myself am vegetarian and I think my diet has helped me a lot. Don't drink too much wine. And get a lot of sleep, not for vanity, but because if you are well rested you will enjoy life so much more."
And her ultimate tip for eternal youth? "I have made this picture called Old Woman Remembering. It's a picture of a woman with a big muddled pile of wool. It's supposed to be a metaphor for making sense of things, but it's also a reminder that creativity and work are the things that really keep us young.
"Have a creative passion – whether it's writing, painting, music or something else – and you'll never be past it."
Please visit www.paulinebewick.ie
Pauline's work will be displayed in the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) Annual Exhibition, May 27 - August 9.
Further information at www.rhagallery.ie
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