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Thursday 22 February 2018

'I'm homeless' - admits internationally famous Irish artist and TV star Kevin Sharkey

Whitney Houston and Kate Moss bought his works - but his world fell apart in the crash

Kevin Sharkey outside his homeless centre in Dublin City Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kevin Sharkey outside his homeless centre in Dublin City Photo: Gerry Mooney

Larissa Nolan

Internationally famous Irish artist Kevin Sharkey has been homeless for months, after falling victim to Ireland's accommodation crisis.

Sharkey - whose fans include Kate Moss and the late Whitney Houston - was the darling of the art world and made a lot of money but his fortunes fell with the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.

The Donegal painter (54), has been living in sheltered accommodation in Dublin city centre for the past two months, unable to find a place he can afford.

"I'm proof that becoming homeless can happen to anyone. This is the reality in the current crisis.

"Don't think you are immune. You would be forgiven for thinking: if you work hard enough, it won't happen. But the housing crisis means the system is stacked against you," he told the Sunday Independent.

"The game is not in your favour no matter how well you are doing. There are no houses available, and the few that are for rent are at inflated prices many cannot afford."

Kevin Sharkey pictured at the smashed window of his Gallery in Temple Bar
Kevin Sharkey pictured at the smashed window of his Gallery in Temple Bar

Sharkey's homeless ordeal will end today when he moves into a State-provided flat in Ballbriggan, Co Dublin.

He was given priority on the housing list due to his homeless status, and will pay a manageable percentage of his income in rent.

And after spending months sharing a room in a shelter, he told of the circumstances that ultimately led to homelessness.

"I've been an artist for 20 years and had amazing success, both professionally and personally.

Fiona O'Shaughnessy and Kevin Sharkey at the launch of Virginia Gilbert's book Traveling Companion, at Dubray books on Grafton Street, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins
Fiona O'Shaughnessy and Kevin Sharkey at the launch of Virginia Gilbert's book Traveling Companion, at Dubray books on Grafton Street, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

"I had a huge audience for my work and sold a lot of paintings. Money was falling from the trees in the boom," he recalls..

"But often, the more creative you are, the worse you are at things like financial planning and accounts. When the sh*t hit the fan economically, the luxury goods market was the first to go.

"People just stopped buying paintings. Businesses couldn't be seen to be buying them. Everything froze.

"I made over €3m over the years from art, but I put it right back into the economy, opening galleries and so on.

Kevin Sharkey. Picture: David Conachy.
Kevin Sharkey. Picture: David Conachy.

"I never bought a property. In fact, when they offered me a mortgage I knew there was something wrong with the banks."

His finances worsened in the subsequent years to the point that he was putting all his money into rent and didn't have enough to eat. In 2011, he told how at one point, he was so broke, he became a gigolo just to survive.

"It took me a long time to actually seek help - for a man, it is seen as a failure - and in my pride, I couldn't do it. Actually, it is the hardest thing in the world to ask for help, it takes balls."

In desperation, he ended up applying for social welfare two years ago and was on the housing list for five years.

"I would pay one month's rent and immediately be panicking about where I would get the next month's. Those weeks seem to fly by until it was rent day again. It was my entire preoccupation. You're avoiding the landlord, if the phone rings, it is tremendous stress. The rug was slipping under me. I couldn't even afford the basics.

"I always assumed that homeless people were in part to blame for their circumstances. I now know that is a lazy idea that people who have never had to struggle have. Until you are in poverty, it is almost inconceivable.

"People see me and think: there's yer man off the telly and assume I am wealthy. But it's a huge misconception.

"I've decided to be honest. If I tell people I'm homeless it forces people to think about it."

When Kevin could no longer afford to live in Dublin, he stayed for while with his sister, Majella, in Donegal. But he felt, as an adult, he could not stay there long term.

He has been in sheltered accommodation now for two months.

Earlier this year he stayed in a caravan park in Roundwood, Co Wicklow in a tent with an inflatable bed, paying €16 a night.

"It was very cold and wet and I was the only tent in the place. I always look at the positives but that was my lowest point and I couldn't even find any positives."

He was told about Crosscare, a housing agency that helps those facing homelessness in the city. They provided him with accommodation on Amiens Street in the north inner-city.

"Their kindness overwhelmed me. All I needed was a space with shelter. I get into a bed with clean sheets and towels and I can make a cup of tea.

"It is a clean and well-run building of two houses out together in the north inner city and I am sharing a room with one other man.

"Who would have thought this would be a luxury to me?"

Upbeat Sharkey is positive about getting back on his feet again, as his creativity still burns despite straitened circumstances.

"I've always painted, I've never stopped painting. I am a creative person and I believe good things will come out of this period and I will get back to what I do.

He says the housing crisis can be solved if the will is there. "All people need is a bathroom, a kitchen, a place to sleep. It's not rocket science. There is no necessity for big houses that leave people up to their neck in debt."

Kevin Sharkey's paintings hang in the homes of Charles Saatchi, Courtney Love and Matt Lucas.

His work has been hung in galleries alongside the works of Tony O'Malley and Louis Le Brocquy.

One of his exhibitions sold out within 48 hours of opening.

Before being a professional artist, he presented Megamix on RTE and ITV's The Roxy and wrote songs for Boney M and Bob Geldof.

He ran art galleries in Dublin, London and Ibiza - but he lost it all in 2008.

At the height of the Celtic Tiger, he created a lifesize cow covered in €18,000 worth of real cash as his contribution to Cow Parade, an art auction organised by U2.

In 2009, his painting Roisin raised €26,100 for People in Need on RTE's Telethon.

Aside from showing his paintings on Merrion Square in the capital every Sunday, he is holding a comeback exhibition at the Heisenberg Gallery on Lombard Street, Dublin 2, on September 1.

Sunday Independent

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