Saturday 24 August 2019

Painting a picture of good health - how art helped one man cope with wife's cancer diagnosis

Artist Patrick Walshe took to painting to calm his fears away during his wife Ros's 2014 cancer diagnosis

Patrick and Ros Walshe in front of some of his paintings at Origin Gallery. Photo: Steve Humphries
Patrick and Ros Walshe in front of some of his paintings at Origin Gallery. Photo: Steve Humphries

Andrea Smith

The highly entertaining Ros Walshe adopted her usual 'JFDI' philosophy to the treatment regime when she was diagnosed with breast cancer - 'Just f***ing do it'. She had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and is thankfully well again. She rails against being defined by the illness though, and is even mortified at the 'indulgence' of doing this interview. She agrees because her husband Patrick has donated a set of beautiful paintings to the Marie Keating Foundation, and if it helps others, she's all for that.

Patrick, 64, has had a long and varied career as a professional artist, starting from his first exhibition in 1978. He was always artistic, but studied business at Trinity after finishing at Glenstal Abbey School at his solicitor father's insistence. He has one older sister and they grew up in Ennis with their late parents, Mary and Michael. Patrick worked in kitchens during the summer holidays, and the late film-maker Tiernan McBride - Maud Gonne's grandson - gave him some money to set up a catering company after graduation, which catered for film shoots and music events. "I do all the cooking at home now and even the laundry, so I'm a keeper," he says.

Like his dad, Patrick married a woman from Leeds. He was introduced to fashion designer Ros Mason-Jones in New York in 1982 by a friend who worked for her. Ros had studied fashion at Kingston University and worked in Milan before moving to New York, where she worked with some of the biggest designers, including Calvin Klein.

She was 25 when she met Patrick, and they embarked on 'a mad, whirlwind romance'. "I thought he was gorgeous, and he had a very attractive voice and personality," she recalls. "We proceeded to get fairly well-oiled and didn't get together that night, but consummated our affection very shortly afterwards. Then he flew back to Dublin, but moved back to New York a few months later. Patrick was great fun and he intrigued me. He was a cook, a painter and was travelling the world, so I fancied a bit of that."

Patrick recalls that the striking Ros wore a fabulous Yohji Yamamoto outfit, and you could never be bored around her. She is brilliantly direct, and when Patrick is asked what first attracted him to her, she interjects with, "Great tits!" She also teases that "he slept with everything that walked", before they met.

"You could never be bored with Ros, as she has a great sense of humour and always keeps you guessing," says a clearly amused Patrick. "I had never met anyone like her, and thought, 'Wow, she is so interesting',"

Ros and Patrick were married in Leeds, where her three brothers and parents lived. Her late dad Denis was an architect, and her mum Mary is still with us and is a retired doctor. She clearly shares her daughter's brilliant bluntness. "She saw I had no hair and said, 'Darling, have you had a sex change?'" laughs Ros. "I told her I had cancer, and her reply was, 'Oh, how long have they given you?'"

After they got married, Ros and Patrick spent four years in New York and six in Los Angeles. They then decided to go travelling for two years and had a ball. "Patrick got really tanned and gorgeous, but I got grey and saggy on that trip," Ros recalls. "People used to think he was travelling with his mother, so I had to get my hair dyed in Thailand."

After the trip, they came back to live in Wicklow. They have two lovely rugby-playing sons, Liam, 21, a strength and conditioning scientist and coach, and Marcus, 20, who works in the film industry. Ros is a designer with Avoca and loves it. Her work encompasses everything from the buildings and cafes to the scarves. The company was very supportive through her cancer.

As well as his individual, colourful paintings that are for sale at Origin Gallery, Patrick has a set of 15 stunning paintings on view there that have been donated to the Marie Keating Foundation. The hope is that a philanthropist will buy the collection, which consists of 14 'nocturnes' and one 'prelude' - his prayers that Ros would make a full recovery. He works mainly in oils and paints over a base of silver leaf, which give the images an amazing luminescence.

"There was nothing I could do to help on those days when Ros was nailed to the bed," he says. "The only way for me to stay sane was to paint the journey as it unfolded, and record something I had never given thought to in my naive and blinkered optimism of life. I felt it was a great body of work, but didn't want to benefit from it because my reward came when Ros got her great results."

Ros thinks Patrick's art is amazing, and is delighted he is getting the acknowledgement he deserves. "Being an artist is a gift but also an affliction, because you don't have a choice in it," she says. "Patrick was fantastic and didn't smother me through the cancer, and was so supportive. We have great fun together, and while obviously life has its pressures, it has been a very nice balance and I'm very happy." The Nocturne Vigil and recent paintings will be exhibited until the new year at Origin Gallery, 37 Fitzwilliam Street Upper, Dublin 2.

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