New portrait of Phil Lynott to take centre stage in exhibition

New portrait of Phil Lynott to take centre stage in exhibition
Claire Guinan with John Sheahan of The Dubliners

Claire Guinan’s exhibition includes a new painting of Phil Lynott, writes Richard Fitzpatrick.

For a painting in her collection of portraits of Irish musicians, Claire Guinan was invited by Philomena Lynott to her house in Dublin to view some negatives. Guinan discovered a little treasure trove – two boxes full of unseen-by-the-public photographs of her son, the legendary Phil Lynott. The painter could have her pick with one rule.

“There was four or five pictures that I really liked,” says Guinan, “and I asked Philomena which one she preferred. I had a few chosen of Phil smoking, and she said: ‘No, you can’t use them!’”

Claire Guinan working on the new painting of the late Phil Lynott which will be unveiled tomorrow
Claire Guinan working on the new painting of the late Phil Lynott which will be unveiled tomorrow

Unfortunately, Philomena Lynott didn’t get to see the final painting, as she passed away in June, but the public will get to see it when it’s unveiled tomorrow, Wednesday, at the Rock ’N’ Roll Museum in Dublin, along with a tranche of wonderful portraits of Irish music performers such as Paul Brady, Cathy Davey and Christy Dignam.

Guinan met with her subjects before painting them — in locations like Dublin’s iconic Central Hotel and Cork (where she met Dignam’s band Aslan) — to get a feel for them and to take their photographs, which she used as references. The paintings are done in oil paint, and took on average about 60 hours each to complete.

“I photographed them while they were talking,” she says.

I didn’t want anything too posed. I wanted to catch them sitting down, being as natural as possible. I tried to capture every detail as much as I could. I painted the Lisa Hannigan one two times. I didn’t like the first one.

“Even the one with Gavin Friday, I was trying to get his rose-tinted glasses right. He texted me the day before asking me what he should wear. I told him: ‘Whatever you’re comfortable in.’ He came in with lots of bracelets and crocodile shoes. He really dressed up, and he was wearing these rose-tinted glasses. I think it took nearly two weeks to get the little tint over his eyes properly.”

Guinan elaborates on her portrait of Mick Flannery in which he’s looking downwards and lost in thought: “He comes across as being so shy. I remember years ago, I was at a gig of his and he said about himself that he had ‘the stage presence of a goat’. But the minute he sits down in front of a piano or guitar he just changes. He’s just so natural.

“That’s why with Mick Flannery’s — and with Mundy’s — you can’t see his eyes because I was trying to capture how he is.”

Claire Guinan's portrait of Mick Flannery.
Claire Guinan's portrait of Mick Flannery.

Guinan’s portrait of The Dubliners’ John Sheahan — the last surviving member from the band’s early days — catches him in all his hairy glory, with impressive beard, a shock of white hair and prominent nose. The portrait has a connection, too, with one of her other sitters, Imelda May.

“I make jewellery as well. The name of John Sheahan’s painting is ‘Fiddle Dreams’. It’s the title of a poetry book that he wrote. When I saw him perform at The New Triangle gig — with Damian Dempsey and Declan O’Rourke — he was saying somebody asked Barney McKenna how to hold a guitar plectrum and he said: ‘Think of it like a bird. If you hold it too tight you’ll choke it and too loose it’ll fly away.’

“I’ve a piece of jewellery, which is a ‘plec’ and it has a little bird on it. When I met Imelda May I gave her that piece of jewellery. I actually painted it into the portrait of Imelda. She told me that as a child her parents used to be call her ‘the little bird’. When I met her at the Galway Arts Festival before her gig, and she came out wearing it, I was very excited,” she says.

Heart and Soul: Portraits of Irish Musicians opens Wednesday (Aug 14 at the Rock ’N’ Roll Museum in Temple Bar, Dublin . irishrocknrollmuseum.com

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