Tomás O’Cíobháin was born in An Ghráig, Baile’n Fheirtéaraigh, Co. Kerry. Renown for his graphic work and skill as a an etcher and engraver it was by chance that he entered into the artistic fields. Always having an interest in the arts as a child he pursued a night course in etching and engraving and began to submit his works to exhibitions.
From his first piece he has won numerous awards for his work and has become one of Ireland’s most prolific printmakers. He has participated in a number of group exhibitions including the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Crawford Gallery and the Oireachtas National Exhibition. He has completed a series of solo exhibitions also in his native Kerry. In 1998 he won a Travel Award to Goteberg, Sweden. This success persuaded Tomás to devote himself to a career of teaching furniture design, wood and metal craft. His work is currently on display in the Crawford Municipal Gallery in Cork.
Known primarily as a etcher Tomás also is a typographical and historical painter of considerable skill and deftness. His signature pieces are seen from aerial perspective, over-looking an area which he knows well. At times he uses artistic licence with the scenes to heighten the drama.
Tomás’ scenes are intense and powerful. He views painting as a collaboration between the artist and the fusing of ideas in trying to grasp the physical sense of a place, in his instance his landscape has been of West Kerry. His etchings depict a “fascination with rural life…enriched by clear technical ability and the sense that the walls which carve through the Kerry mountains are analogous with veins running through the body”. In his etchings he works deep into the plate in order to produce dark tones “which suit his vision of the Irish landscape.” His etchings have been described as “atmospheric and illustrative, with a conviction in their imagery.”
The Kerry which inspires him is “the Kerry of language, song, story and personality, the talk of the land, this intense interest in the fertile or barren characteristics of fields, the wetness and dryness of land.” He listens to the “talk of the land” understanding and gaining insight into why generations fought with determination for land and bog. Finding inspiration in a certain idea O’ Ciobháin says that his “work predates my own personal feelings. They are always ahead of my epiphany. The work leads me to a place.”
Tomás’ subject matter celebrates West Kerry, particularly Mount Brandon and the Blasket Islands. Through subject matter he explores the different mediums and at times the typographical etchings and semi-abstract paintings are so different in style that it is hard to believe that they are by the same artist. Yet as Tomás states, they are both “part of the same inquiry.” He says of both mediums, “I use etchings to fix images in my head and the semi-abstract oils to ‘invent‘ in the oil painting. I like putting myself into positions which are humanly impossible to reach. In some landscapes, I‘m not standing anywhere. I‘m actually doing them in mid air. You can hear all the sounds and conversations from the plains below.” It is for this reason that his work has extreme aerial views of a location, heightening the drama of the landscape to the viewer.
Tomás’ work at present has become more abstract, less descriptive but he still looks to those tiny human traces in landscapes. He doesn’t actually depict humans in his landscapes but he likes to feel that they are omnipresent still working or fishing. He associates etching with landscape because of its erosive qualities, and how the lines in an etching are similar to the eroded lines of the countryside. His method in his oil paintings is interesting in that he applies a layer of plaster onto the canvas and outlines the different details, which he then later works up with the oil paint. He describes it as his “embossing” technique. His work is refreshing, exciting in method, composition and perspective and his depiction of Kerry is one where “realism is extended by imagination”.
2006 West kerry coast at the Greenlane Gallery
2007 Paint a Future, France (Dijon)
2007 Paint a Future ,Brazil (Florianopolis)
Airport Atrium Gallery, Atlanta USA
International Museum of contempary Art, Naples, Italy