Gary Devon was born in 1958. He lives in Bangor, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.
“Deserted farmsteads have been the focus of my most recent work. Their prominence in the paintings prompts the question why such emphasis. Perhaps there is something in my bones – my father was an architect and I’ve always been drawn to buildings as subject matter. Edward Hopper became an abiding influence at college in London when I concentrated on the urban scene. Long since back in Ireland I’m just as excited by the cottage or lone house. I’m also now giving up more of the canvas space to the surrounding landscape as I’m beginning to enjoy the juxtaposition of forms and colours of the man-made structure and nature. I’m hugely excited by the sun’s effect on colour, dependant on its temperature or position in the sky. Besides throwing the scene into relief it will dress a mountain in its evening attire of orange and magenta or the olive green suit of first light or the pale cobalt habit of a shimmering haze. It will turn the weathered red barn a dazzling bright cadmium orange.
Beyond that natural affinity with architecture and the stimulus of colour and light I’m not even sure myself what my paintings are ‘about’. I’m loath to pin any definitive meaning onto them as I’d prefer the viewer to decide, but, if pressed for an explanation, I’d suggest they are about the past and the present, the passage of time and the transience of life. The farm building, upon the death of its occupant, becomes something of a monument to the life of that ‘unknown’ farmer and his forebears. I make no apology for the paintings’ measure of nostalgia for they are a celebratory nod to past generations, the common man and woman, their life of subsistence and even survival. Occasionally I get little snippets of information about them through conversations with those who’d have known them, even if it’s only a nick name or an indication of their trade, the likes of ‘Murphy The Bog’ or John T. O’Shea, cabinet and cart maker, a useful man to know in life and equally useful at the end of it, as he doubled as a coffin-maker. Noted by their absence in the paintings they live on in spirit. In some paintings cattle or sheep take sanctuary in or congregate around the doorless shell – it’s as if the house has not yet given up its ghost.
When painting these images I’m reminded of a particularly evocative piece of prose by Cavan writer Michael Harding describing his memories of the life and passing of a local farmer whom he barely knew, but obviously admired very much, noting his daily devotion to his animals and fields. It immediately struck a chord with me and seemed to put into words what I was trying to say in paint. He describes the farmer as “a quiet man who walked deeply on the earth”. About his passing he wrote, ” His death was the closure of a simple life. When a farmer dies in the countryside there is a strange emptiness in the fields. But there will be no one to tend his garden now, and his fields are empty, his cattle are taken elsewhere. His tractor will never come again up the hill on a summer’s evening. And the house where there was always a light in the window at Christmas will be dark this year. Those who live in the hills above Lough Allen have lost another solitary man. But all across the West of Ireland it is the same – one by one, the lights go out.
BA Fine Art, GoldsmithsCollege, London
Member of the Royal Ulster Academy
Commissions include Kensington Palace for HRH Prince of Wales, house portraits for Diana Riggs and Peter Alliss and a 200 sq. ft. mural in North Down Heritage Centre, depicting stretch of local coastline, flora and fauna in North Down, a national trust property.
Royal Ulster Academy Prizes:
2002 William Conor Prize
2010 Paul Henry Landscape Prize, awarded by Hughie O’Donahue (RA)
North Down Heritage Centre
Bridge Gallery, (Dublin)
Gormley Galleries, (Belfast, Omagh, Dublin)
Ross’s Auction House (Belfast)
Gordon Gallery, (Derry)
Mullan Gallery, (Belfast)