The art of the matter

RARELY more than random scribblings, doodles are the product of your subconscious filling the margins of a phone book or sprawling all over a piece of scrap paper.

Long phone calls or boring meetings are excellent occasions for generating doodles, your mind utterly disconnected from your scribing hand.

But while you may crumple yours up into a ball and bin it, a Cork-based cancer support charity has found a way of turning them into a valuable means of raising both funds and awareness, in the form of a doodle auction.

Mind you, there’s no gold to be found in any scribblings you or I churn out; the doodles being auctioned flow from the pens and pencils of celebrities from the worlds of sport, entertainment and public life.

This year’s crop features stars of the Irish rugby team alongside actors Fiona Shaw, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes, athlete Derval O’Rourke, TV chef Martin Shanahan, singer John Spillane, Jedward and Nicky Byrne from Westlife.

Cork ARC Cancer Support House in the city centre is staffed by trained volunteers and professional counsellors offering cancer patients and their families and friends a wide range of support services alongside therapies complementary to medical care including meditation, massage, yoga, art therapy and stress management.

Medical oncologist and chairman of the board of ARC Seamus O’Reilly, said: “This year in Ireland over 30,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer. While the majority of those diagnosed will be cured, for many, the psychological impact of the diagnosis can have a greater impact than its physical effects, so the counselling and support services we offer are vital to both patients and families.

“All services are provided free of charge — last year the house received more than 4,000 visits. We rely on fundraising to support our services and we were delighted with the results from last year’s auction which raised valuable funds and most importantly, increased awareness of our services in our community.”

Along with the celebrity doodlers are a number of professional artists, most prominent among them, the internationally-renowned, Cork-born Dorothy Cross, perhaps best known in this country for her 1998 project, Ghost Ship, a decommissioned lightship anchored off the coast near Dun Laoghaire, which lit up at night and attracted huge critical and popular acclaim.

Unlike many of her fellow artists who knocked off quick sketches or watercolours, Cross’s ‘doodle’, a recurring motif of birds’ heads, does look like something randomly generated. Indeed, she is delighted to hear of my first sighting of her piece: “Birds!” I exclaimed to the woman from ARC. “God, you’re right,” she says, studying it closely, “I just thought it was a bit of a scribble.”

“A doodle is an unconscious activity,” says Cross. “Once you start ‘trying’ to doodle, it becomes conscious, not a doodle, it’s very hard — especially for artists — to sit there and try not to think about what you’re trying to do.

“Last year, I did my dog. I don’t draw, really, I’m not the biggest doodler in the world, but there’s a book I love, Beyond Reason, which is a collection of the artwork of patients in Austrian lunatic asylums which offers an insight into their obsessive doodling, they are really true to themselves in the way a real doodle is. I’m not saying all doodlers should be in asylums,” she guffaws, “but a real doodle can reveal an awful lot about the doodler.”

One of the most artful doodles in the auction is by Munster winger and former All-Black Dougie Howlett, a very clever little drawing that looks, for all the world, as if it was dashed off in seconds. In a single line, it encapsulates the great adventure the Howlett family embarked on in leaving New Zealand to move to Cork. Howlett, however, much like his manner on the playing pitch, downplays and deflects praise: “A little bit of work went into it, obviously, but it’s very simple, something that sprang to mind, which is what a doodle is all about. I’ve just doodled the similarities between Ireland and New Zealand and put them on paper.

“It’s fairly self-explanatory, it’s all the one line. It’s simple but something I wanted my young ones to understand, something to look at and in a snap say oh yeah, I get it.”

Throughout the interview, young Charlie Howlett clambers affectionately all over his dad who gamely soldiers on: “Charlie was six months old when we moved here, Ruby Sue and our newborn were both born in Ireland. They’ve been brought up here, they regard it as home and for the last four years, it has been home for us.

“We have enjoyed our time here in Munster, in Ireland, in Europe, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to get away from NZ, we signed for two years; four years later we’re still here. It says a lot about the place, not only myself but my wife and my family have really enjoyed our time here.

“I certainly came up with the intentions of progressing my rugby, full of intent and vigour to do something different and I look back on the decision to come to Munster and it was a masterstroke really, not only for the rugby but for the social environment, the family environment, there are a good few similarities between NZ and Ireland which we really like.

“The one major difference is not having that family connection, being away from home, on our own, in effect. It’s tough but something we enjoy, we’ve become a family unit. We came with the intent of making it work here and it’s what we’ve done so far.”

Howlett’s own mother has been through a breast cancer scare: “She managed to come through it, thankfully. I hope this doodle goes to a good home, it means something to me and is for a good cause.”

And how about a moustache, Dougie? “This is my Movember!” he laughs, shuddering in mock horror, brandishing his doodle protectively before him.

AUCTION DETAILS: This year’s auction takes place in Scott’s of Caroline Street, Cork, on Thursday, November 24. Wine, finger food, entertainment and music with The Poitin Boys @ 6.30 pm followed by Auction @ 7.30 pm, with The Poitin Boys playing again afterwards. Auctioneer is Morgan O’Driscoll. Advance bids can be made online by visiting morganodriscoll.com or by phoning Cork ARC Cancer Support House on 021-4276688.

World of his own

LIKE most Irish people, Westlife’s Nicky Byrne — another willing doodler for the auction — has been touched by cancer.

“My Granddad, my Mam’s dad, died from bowel cancer. He was 75, had a good long life but we never really got to speak about the cancer with him. I wonder had he the opportunity to share it with someone else, the way the ARC House people offer that opportunity, would it have helped him and us more. We are quite a close-knit family, and he was the lion, the King of the Jungle. We were booked to do the Kelly Show on the day of the funeral. The lads said you don’t have to do it, but Granddad would have wanted me to. They were all in their casual clothes and I was in a black suit and tie. He was diagnosed in August and died on my birthday in October. He probably had it for quite some time and never knew. I also lost a cousin who died at 38 with breast cancer; there’s nobody out there who’s not touched by it. You see how cancer can obliterate people.”

Byrne is at a crossroads in his life now that Westlife, the group he has sung with since his teens, have finally announced their retirement. “It is very sad for us all; we’ve done all we can and all good things must come to an end. So we gave ourselves a nice ending, we are still friends. There wasn’t any disagreement, it just became hard to function, the whole operation — not especially the performing — just became harder to run over a long space of time.”

And what of the future? “I don’t believe any of us will experience what we experienced in Westlife. We all want to take a deep breath before deciding what comes next. Entertainment is all we know and I want to stay in the entertainment industry. I’ve been meeting people and I wouldn’t rule anything out. I never really listened to critics talking about a single or a show, it was all water off a duck’s back, shared between four of us. But I won’t have the lads and the lads won’t have me. Whatever I choose to do, the responsibility rests on my shoulders now and I can’t ignore it now. Whether you let it bother you or affect your performance is another thing.”

So, his doodle is his first real solo gig? “Yeah, that’s it,” he chuckles delightedly, “I’m going to be an artist!”

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