Finding inspiration on a quiet island in West Cork

Ian Humphreys has avoided the major art centres of the world to join the small band of residents on Heir Island, writes Colette Sheridan

Finding inspiration on a quiet island in West Cork

ESCHEWING the busy sociable world of major art exhibition openings in Dublin and London, artist, Ian Humphreys consciously chose the isolation of Heir Island, off West Cork, to hone his craft as a painter inspired by the atmosphere of his surroundings.

Humphreys, in his early sixties, has two exhibitions coming up in Skibbereen and Rosscarberry and will also be selling 200 copies of a book, showcasing his work, with photographs by John Minihan.

Humphreys was born in Hertfordshire and studied fine art painting at Exeter College of Art. He moved to Ireland in 1999, encouraged by a friend. It took him six years to find a plot on Heir Island on which to build a house and studio.

There have been ups and downs in his career. Back in 1987, Humphreys’ paintings were used in the rock music movie, Hearts of Fire, starring Bob Dylan and Ian Dury.

More recently in 2011, Humphreys was forced to sell his entire private collection to survive the recession.

“I sold 80 pieces at an auction with no reserve price. That didn’t do me any favours with galleries but I had to do something because the galleries weren’t selling and I had a mortgage to pay. Some of the paintings sold for reasonable money; some didn’t. I made nearly €80,000. But when you think about it, that works out at only a grand a painting. Before the recession, in 2007, I had the best year ever when I made €100,000. And then it was down to nothing. I had to sell my private collection. I literally had the banks knocking on the door.”

Humphreys is one of just of 24 people living all year round on Heir Island. In the summer months, holiday-makers stay in the 30 holiday homes on the island. “There’s a restaurant in the summer, a pizza place, a sailing school and there’s lovely beaches. But my favourite time of the year on Heir is the winter. I like the quietness and the beautiful stillness.”

Among his neighbours is an 82- year-old retired lobster fisherman with whom Humphreys goes fishing.

“There are only about nine actual Heir islanders born and bred on the island. They’re great company.”

Humphreys has a 17-foot wooden punt.

“Because of the archipelago of islands in the area, I can travel around them. It’s safe because you don’t have the great big sea. The sea is broken by the islands. It’s lovely to explore these islands which are uninhabited.”

Influenced by the weather, Humphreys explains that he doesn’t really work from observations or attempt a narrative. “It’s more about absorbing the atmosphere.”

Although he has exhibited several times at the Royal Academy of London and has had one-man shows in London, America, Spain and Holland, Humphreys doesn’t hanker after the bright lights.

“Being away from art capitals doesn’t do me any favours but I choose to live on Heir. I couldn’t paint these paintings if I was in London or New York. Heir Island is where I want to be in order to be creative. I miss going to see the old masters that you can easily see in places like London and Paris. But I can take trips there. I’m looking forward to going to Dublin to see the Vermeer exhibition in the National Gallery.”

Humphreys describes his work as “quiet and meditative”. He listens to a lot of music, which is also an influence on his output. “I like Bach and Chopin. I’ve got paintings called Nocturnes, called after Chopin’s Nocturnes.”

While some of Humphreys’ work is sombre and subtle in blues, browns and greys, he also uses brighter colours such as oranges and reds. “In the book (which costs €75), I name some of the prints after their colours. I have one print in the book called Vermillion. My work is very much about colour and is a quiet celebration of the world we live in.”

Ian Humphreys is exhibiting at the Doswell Gallery, Rosscaberry from July 15-August 10 and at Liss Ard Estate, Skibbereen, throughout the summer.

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