Joe Kelly went viral while feeding a lamb, but it’s his bog oak sculptures that are now grabbing attention, writes Pet O’Connell.
Move over Donald Trump. As larger than life characters go, Cúil Aodha sheep farmer-turned internet sensation Joe Kelly would give the US president a run for his money. What’s more, he’s now achieved the unlikely feat of turning Trump into a work of art.
Hanging a picture of the orange-skinned Republican on the wall may not be to everyone’s taste, especially since the artwork depicts Trump dancing with former British prime minister Theresa May, but Kelly has a tale to tell about the pictures genesis.
As one of three farmers recorded on video by the Irish Examiner’s Dan Linehan at the reopening of his local Top of Coom pub on the Cork-Kerry border, Kelly had his own brush with fame.
The video showing him bottle-feeding a lamb attracted nearly 770,000 views, as audiences worldwide attempted to decipher the farmers’ dialect. The clip made it to the BBC’s Have I Got News for You and was described as ‘amazing’ by Ed Sheeran on the Late Late Show.
As he prepares for this week’s opening of his mixed-media art exhibition in collaboration with fellow artist Catherine Cronin, Kelly explains how a visit to family during the 2016 US election campaign piqued his interest in Trump.
“I have a cousin and they were canvassing for Donald Trump because [the cousin] was the head man in his golf course in Virginia,” he relates.
Kelly’s picture was inspired by an image of Trump and May dancing, created by London graffiti artist ‘Bambi’ in a parody of a scene from the film La La Land.
Kelly admits that despite its comic slant, his subject “wouldn’t be very well received around here” due to Trump’s repute. “They wouldn’t like him at all,” he says.
Likely to be more kindly received are his bogwood, stone, and wood sculptures in the exhibition‘Cruthaitheach Darach Duibhe’, opening on Thursday at Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha.
Working with wood found on his own land “when you’d be cutting bog or making drains”, Joe’s sculptures range from a representation of the Fastnet lighthouse to deeply personal pieces carved in memory of his late wife Joan.
“When my wife died I made one about her departure from this world to the next,” he says of a bogwood phoenix rising from the ashes.
"A stone sculpture of a lily was also carved with Joan in mind. “I thought it turned out nice. It’s a fleur de lys. I might put it up in the graveyard where she’s buried,” he says.
Though hosting his second exhibition, Joe plays down his artistic endeavors, saying that at the age of 81 they are “not professional, but something to keep you going”.
Co-exhibitor Catherine Cronin, however, has high praise for his efforts and maintains “his spirit is something else”.
“Myself and Joe just always hit it off. I wouldn’t have done an exhibition only for Joe asking me to do it with him.”
The pair first met when he attended a previous exhibition of Catherine's in Baile Mhúirne.
Though based in Oughterard, her father Denis Cronin is from Béal Átha ’n Ghaorthaidh, and it was during summers with relatives in the Múscraí Gaeltacht that Catherine discovered painting.
Her aunt and uncle rented a house previously occupied by artist Pauline Dodds, who left some of her art materials when she moved out.
Among Catherine’s preferred art subjects are trees, which feature in the new exhibition, but her arboreal interest took another turn following a course on bog oak carving. “I haven’t stopped since,” says Catherine, who transforms her raw material into herons, eagles, and dancing human forms.
“Trees hold such a history in Ireland,” adds Catherine, who says of the bog oak, pine, and yew with which she works: “We should show it the respect it deserves."
Nell Ní Chróinín, singer with the group Danú and cousin of Catherine, opens Cruthaitheach Darach Duibhe on Thursday, Jan 16, 7.30pm, at IonadCultúrtha an Dochtúir Ó Loingsigh.