PERSONAL BRANDING PHOTOGRAPHY – JIM MCKEE
I had the pleasure of recently working with Jim McKee, International Artist and Singer / Songwriter on some personal branding photography. Based in Donaghmore, Jim is deeply inspired by The Burren and the West of Ireland, his spiritual home for many years. Jim’s work includes international collections, commissions and a range of exhibitions throughout his career. He has also performed as a recording artist throughout Ireland, the UK and USA.
I would describe his work as emotional, raw and is triggered by his surroundings. Being self-taught, he is not afraid to express his artist form and has a clearly identifiable style to his work. Jim works across a variety of mediums but I have to say that I love his oil paintings for this energy and vibrancy. He truly captures the spirit and essence of his subject, be it landscape or portrait. Coupled with an infectious enthusiasm, he is a joy to work with and chat to. You can find his work on his website or via Facebook and Instagram.
Did you always have an interest in art?
From a very young age, I was always drawing and sketching. My father used to come home from work every Saturday with an arm full of art materials for me. He also had an interest in art and I remember him showing me one of his paintings of a greyhound, completed on the back of a shoebox. It was reminiscent of Jack B Yeats work. I also found other sketches of his work, including men fly fishing. It was only in later years that I discovered he was a very talented artist and I’ve been told there are distinct similarities in our work.
At school, the teachers picked up on my abilities and encouraged me on many occasions to use my skills. I was often asked to produce posters or help prepare creative elements for school events such as confirmation etc. One memory that sticks out in my mind, was the time I entered a Blue Peter competition to design a stamp. When I heard I had come second out of 74,000 entries I couldn’t believe it.
After moving to secondary school, one of my teachers, Jim Long, picked up on my talents. He provided me with inks, watercolours and other paints to take home and practice. I left school early as I had started a job and was also focusing on my boxing at the time. Master Long tried to encourage me to go back and complete my studies but the time just wasn’t right.
My love of art and other creative outlets, never left me. I always felt inspired to paint, to write and play music. Around 1999, I was doing a lot of gigs and one night, when playing at the theatre in Armagh I was drawn to one of the paintings on the wall. It hit me like a punch in the stomach and I just knew I was meant to focus on my art. That night, I went home and started experimenting again with watercolours, inks and sketching.
When did things start to really take off for you?
In 2001, I moved to the West of Ireland and focused primarily on oil painting at that time. A well known lady, Mary Coughlan, happened to be passing one day and she bought two of my pieces of work. That’s when things started to change. Shortly after this, my work was displayed in a gallery in Kinvara, Co Galway. One piece in particular caught the eye of an American tourist. It was of the Dingle Peninsula, featuring a hand cut turf bog, that I completed early in my career using a makeup brush and knife.
I was then invited to take part in an exhibition alongside two other artists, where all 16 pieces of my work sold. Things continued to grow from there until the Kenny Gallery in Galway approached me to feature my art. This meant such a lot to me as I used to go to this gallery as a child when we went to Salthill on our holidays. I would stand for hours looking at the paintings. Fast forward to 2008, my solo exhibition at the Kenny, ‘From the Hearth’, sold out.
A highlight of my career was when I was commissioned to product a piece of work for Michael D Higgins back in 2015. ‘The home I left behind’ was gifted to the President of Ireland by the Institute of Technology, Tralee, Co Kerry and this was a very special moment for me.
Around three years ago, I opened a studio in Donaghmore and then opened my gallery in December 2020, after things were delayed with Covid Restrictions. I feature my own work in the gallery, offering a range of paintings and prints.
Tell me about your work in Grenay, France
This is the sixth year that I have been invited back to Grenay in France, working with locals to create murals around the village. Grenay, situated in the North of France, is twinned with Ballyshannon, Co Donegal and they both have folk festivals each year. Each year, I work with young people who are unemployed or are just leaving University to produce colourful murals. It’s such a wonderful opportunity and I’ve made great friends, including the local mayor, Christian. The programme is lasting eight weeks this year and I’m really enjoying being back
Where do you get your inspiration?
From so many places. In nature, flowers, the greenhouse. I’m always looking for movement. When I’m out for a walk, there is maybe a bend the road that catches my eye.
Light is so important as well. That is something that has come with time and you learn to read the light, seeing the the difference it makes to a scene. For me, happiness is going across a field, sitting in nature and painting.
Do you like painting people?
Definitely. I find myself drawn to musicians, trying to capture someone’s ‘gimp’, that is the way they hold the instrument. Often I a commissioned to create portraits for family members of loved ones, still with us or passed away.
Tell me about your infamous Chaise Longue …
The week I opened the gallery, I had purchased a chaise longue from a couple in Bangor. Shortly after, they contacted me to say that Channel 4 wanted to use it on a tv programme called Mend it for Money. A week later it, both the chaise longue and I were in Glasgow for filming! It was a great experience and it’s back in the gallery now, pride of place. The lady who worked on it did an amazing job.
Is it hard ‘letting go’ of a piece of work when you have completed it?
It can be at times. One of the gallery owners often said to me that I treated my work like my children. In the past, I did miss my paintings after I finished them. Then a sculptor friend of mine, based in Kinvara, told me to always have one fresh on the canvas as you let one away. As an artist you have to learn to let go of your work.
Have you anything new planned for 2022 and beyond?
Absolutely. I always have lots of ideas for the future. I can’t wait to get back to the Connemara in the West of Ireland to capture new landscape locations. In 2022, I’m looking at a date with The Kenny Gallery which is very exciting. Plus I’ve another idea for a project this winter in Donaghmore called Village Faces.
Have you a motto to live by?
Live every day like it’s your last. It’s never too late try new things, so just go for it and take action.