Monday 19 March 2018

What lies beneath: The Journey is Finished

The Journey is Finished by John Kingerlee, Oil on acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Laurence Powell

Celebratory: The swoosh of red in The Journey is Finished reminded the artist of
Celebratory: The swoosh of red in The Journey is Finished reminded the artist of "the sound of the email sent"

Niall MacMonagle

For John Kingerlee, who will be 80 on February 17, life's journey has been a fascinating one.

Born in Birmingham, illiterate until the age of 11, he was educated by the Marist Fathers in Clyst St Mary, Devon. Asked in school to give a lecture on a cathedral, Kingerlee chose Exeter and that "massive cathedral really entered my soul". He has worked as a gardener, a builder, an organic flour mill manager, a potter - Josiah Wedgwood was an ancestor - and was pleased to discover he's descended from gypsy tribes.

In the early 1960s and married with five children, Cornwall became home. Having walked the Dingle peninsula in 1981, he and his wife moved, "a blessed move", to a remote cottage on the Beara Peninsula the following year. "I had affectionate memories of priests and liked being among Catholics." They became Irish citizens and the spiritual journey continued. Kingerlee, remembering Sufis whom he had met in a London squat years earlier, converted to Islam in 1988 and now spends three months each year in Fez.

The Journey is Finished "was begun in Cornwall in 1979 and finished 2005, west Cork". Cubism is a major influence and Kingerlee's celebratory, prayerful work includes gridscapes, heads, landscapes, drawings, paintings called Charlie Haughey Died This Day, 13 June 2006 and Paddling My Own Canoe. A little man in a boat is his signature. "I'm happy for people to make their own interpretations of the paintings. The figure on the right is, for me, the Traveller" and "as a Muslim I shy away from specific figuration of living, moving creatures. An indication is enough. The heads get to look more like eroded rocks." And what about that swoosh of red? "This morning the swoosh of red seemed just like the sound of the email sent".

Kingerlee, the first Irish or British artist to exhibit at the National Art Museum in Beijing, was a wild child by his own admission, and was "free to roam in my own inner life". The adult Kingerlee is still roaming that inner world. Beyond the Beyonds John Kingerlee at 80, works from 1962 to 2016 is at Luan Gallery, Athlone until 27 February.

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