Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Cow, the Painter, the Book and the Song - A meeting with artist, Alan Healy

I arrive outside the house of artist, Alan Healy and I realise that I will not have to make any mental note of the address. You cannot miss it. It is on the other side of the road skirting the Liverpool Cemetery.
I am greeted by a bearded gentleman with an unmistakable Irish accent. He is at turns affable, funny and introspective.
I enter his house and it is obvious that this is no one-track artist. Canvasses lie alongside sculpted pieces. Mandolins, guitars and banjos lie alongside crowded bookshelves.
Painter, sculptor, installation artist, musician, writer, teacher, one-time violinmaker and restorer - Alan (MSA (Hons) MVA Sydney University) is a man of many parts.
So, I enquire, is there a common thread or an underlying passion that powers all of these artistic pursuits?
"The truth about all these pursuits," he says, "is that they are really one and the same. All ‘artistic pursuits’ deal with forms of abstraction. Violin making is functional sculpture, and the finish on a violin requires a good knowledge of the art of varnishing (which applies also to restoration and painting). Writing is of course required to make concepts somewhat visible. And I teach to continue to learn. Music represents the invisible world, and is open to limitless interpretation, as is abstract painting. Installations allow me to involve others in my work."
"My installation ‘Acustoopticialdinoratorio’,” he adds, "involved thirty-two visual artists who were also musicians."
Born and reared in Dublin, Ireland, Alan was first moved by art when as a schoolboy he saw a painting by Rembrandt on a school trip to a gallery. Being struck by the inner luminosity of Rembrandt’s work was an experience he now terms “aesthetic arrest”.
He came to Australia and travelled extensively across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Settling in Strathfield, Sydney, he and his wife decided to move to Liverpool five years ago to look after an ageing relative.
It is obvious through our conversation that Alan is a thinking man's artist. But it also seems that he is the reading man's artist as well. "My practice as a visual artist," he elaborates, "is mostly in parallel with literature, in particular the work of Irish writers, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Hence my interest in presenting the 'Bloomsday' event at the Liverpool Library. For that day (which celebrates the day in which James Joyce’s 'Ulysses' is set), I like to supply interesting people to read sections of his novel."
As a teacher, Alan finds the biggest challenge facing his art students is to “get past fear of failure and to realize that all that matters is that they are in charge of the matter they are manipulating towards an aesthetic end.” His succinct advice to budding artists and beginners: “Learn to see, not just look.”
Alan's latest exhibition, titled ‘Cow Happy Values’, which I have had the pleasure of viewing at the Milk Factory Gallery, Bowral, was themed on cows. Each canvass portrayed cows - some carefree, some meditative, some pensive, some preoccupied.
So, why cows?
"These cow paintings," he explains, "were inspired by the beginning of Joyce’s 'Portrait of the artist as a young man'." (The work begins with this memorable line: "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road...”) “I try to show the extraordinary in the most ordinary of subjects,” Alan suggests.
Where did he get his models for these paintings, I ask. Apparently, not far from Liverpool. "And yes," he adds, tongue firmly in cheek, "when they got to know me, they posed."
Moving forward, Alan is already preparing for the next exhibition and installation, this time in the Blue Mountains (Nolan Gallery) in July. And, of course, 'Bloomsday' at the Liverpool library, on the 16th of June.
More on Alan Healy at

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