Offaly artist takes her inspiration from music and lyrics
Creativity was always a strong feature of Offaly artist Claire Guinan's young life when she was growing up with her parents and two sisters in Ballydaly, on the outskirts of Tullamore.
Her late mother, Teresa, who passed away in 2006, was a gifted seamstress who had her own business called “Laura Claire” which specialised in making children's clothes and wedding dresses. Claire can still recall how she would sneak into her mother's work room to “make clothes” as a young child – though she adds: “I would use the words 'making clothes' lightly as I wasn't very good at it.”
Small wonder then that the daughter of Dominic (a former Maths teacher) and the late Teresa Guinan would go on to make a career as an artist, with a new exhibition of her work called “In Harmony” running in The Atrium, Westmeath County Buildings in Mullingar, until this Friday, September 29.
Claire started working on her portfolio for Limerick College of Art and Design (NCAD) when she was in Transition Year in the Sacred Heart School in Tullamore. “I suppose I was always interested in art from a young age,” she says, “so when I finished secondary school I was accepted into the Degree Course in Fine Art in Limerick, and I specialised in printmaking.”
However, as there were very few job opportunities available in printmaking, Claire decided to start painting portraits in oils, as well as teaching art classes. “The very first portrait I did was one of my granddad, and he really liked it,” she says. As a very well-known businessman in the town over a long number of years through his hardware shop on Church Street called Colm McCabe & Sons, her grandad was a familiar figure in the town, and was always happy to tell his customers about the lovely portrait that his granddaughter had painted!
The arrival of Covid put a stop to Claire Guinan's art classes for a couple of years, but she has now resumed teaching and currently takes one art class per week in Tullamore. She has also started an innovative new artistic endeavour called “Painting Pints” which takes place once a month in John Lee's pub in Tullamore and also in 'Dead Centre' brewery in Athlone, a town where she now lives and works from her studio at her home.
Described as “a fun evening of painting and pints” Claire supplies all the materials and selects a theme for each session. “No experience is necessary and there's no pressure, it's just a fun get-together where everyone chats and paints at their own pace for two hours, and they can have a pint or two as well,” she adds.
The last “Painting and Pints” session for 2023 in John Lee's pub in Tullamore will take place tomorrow evening, Tuesday, September 26, to coincide with the arrival of the Irish Hot Air Ballooning Championships to the town, and tickets for the two-hour session can be booked on www.claireguinan.com
Claire Guinan's work as an artist is a mixture of commissioned work and her own work and she also has a range of bespoke jewellery available on her website having completed a diploma in jewellery making. She also recently launched an exclusive range of New Home and New Baby prints which she says would make “very special one-off gifts.” One of the very big influences in her life has always been music, which has led her to painting a series of striking portraits of a host of well-known and much-loved Irish music artists, such as the late Phil Lynott, Gavin James, Imelda May, The Villagers, Damien Dempsey, John Sheehan and Mundy, among others.
“I contact each musician by email initially and then arrange to meet with them, and if they are agreeable to having their portrait painted I get some photographs from them and I paint each portrait from a picture,” she says.
Each 60 x 90cm portrait, all of which are painted using oils, takes roughly 60 hours to complete and Claire Guinan is hoping that she might eventually be able to bring her music portraiture collection to a national, or even an international audience, as part of an exhibition.
“I would hope to keep adding to it over the years,” she says, “and I would like to see it going on display at the Irish Centre in maybe London or New York.”
Among the most memorable portraits that the talented Offaly artist has painted was a portrait of Thin Lizzy frontman, the late Phil Lynott, to mark what would have been his 70th birthday., “I met with his mother and she gave me lots of pictures of him and I worked off those and the finished portrait measures 100 x 120cm,” she says, and she is also very proud of the portrait she painted of the much-loved Aslan lead singer, Christy Dignam, who recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. The Phil Lynott portrait was one of 17 portraits of celebrated musicians from all genres of Irish music to feature in Claire Guinan's last exhibition, called ‘Heart and Soul: Portraits of Irish Musicians’ which featured in the Irish Times, Irish Examiner and Hot Press Magazine.
The exhibition received wide acclaim from the people who viewed it, and the celebrity musician sitters themselves, with acclaimed Dublin singer/songwriter, Imelda May saying of her own portrait: “It was the first time someone captured the real me.”
Claire, who has two sisters called Laura and Elaine, also painted a portrait of fellow Tullamore-born musician Donal Lunny, which she presented to him last weekend after he had played a local gig in Charleville Castle.
Having started to play the recorder at the age of seven, Claire Guinan progressed to playing the clarinet and oboe when she joined the Tullamore Town Band, and she also plays guitar. “Music and song lyrics have always inspired me,” she says, “and I bring all these influences into my art as well.”
She also likes her art to “capture special moments” so she does a lot of commission work for special occasions like weddings, christenings and other significant life events.
The “In Harmony” art exhibition, featuring new works by Claire Guinan, opened at The Atrium in Westmeath County Buildings, Mullingar on Tuesday night last, September 19, and runs until this Friday, September 29. Admission is free.