Artist Richard Hearns: ‘I saw magentas and yellows radiating in jungles, and turquoise and cyan waters’
Having placed a large sheet of cotton canvas on the floor, Richard Hearns lay down on it and asked wife Boo to measure his height and reach. That was in 2013 and it marked a departure for this Beirut-born, Dublin-reared, Burren-based artist. That size canvas became what Hearns calls his “signature size” and it signalled a move from representational towards abstract work.
He has now been making art at this scale for almost 10 years, sometimes “at multiples of this scale creating diptychs, triptychs, and even a pentaptych”, a scale that is for Hearns “both a challenge and a revelatory experience”.
At six weeks old, Hearns arrived in Ireland in 1980. He thinks of himself as Irish but is “constantly fascinated by my rich Lebanese/Phoenician heritage” and his adopted family unit was very supportive. His notebook drawings capture memories of endless summers in friends’ houses, local parks, the beaches around Malahide, Co Dublin, and nearby Donabate.
Aware of his background, Hearns “always felt a little different from my peer group but not as an outsider. Everyone has a unique story. I think I embraced mine.”
His natural artistic talent meant vivid exciting and freeing moments — a pencil drawing of his hand when he was aged eight, another of his “injured foot and the room I was convalescing in after a motorbike accident in Thailand. These experiences,” says Hearns, “witnessed, observed and held, translated ideas of concentrated deep time and meaning for me”.
Leaving Cert art, then DLIADT [now IADT] and NCAD fine tuned his interests in drawing, video and sound work, art craft and design. Painting won out.
Pivotal, early works include a smiling Buddhist monk on a woven sheet of bamboo. “The image smiled back at me as much to announce my path” and a mixed-media self-portrait gave him “an overwhelming feeling that it was OK if I was to die. I knew I had lived, had loved and had experienced life.”
Widely travelled, he “saw and experienced, especially in south-east Asia, colour in ways I had not before, magentas and yellows radiating in the undergrowth and jungles, the turquoise and cyan waters of the gulf beyond the reef”. He still carries those “prismatic colours” with him.
In his practice, Hearns catches “glimpses of answers to fundamental questions around consciousness and existence” and believes something elemental and eternal can be revealed. For him, “painting has become a vehicle for my life, a significant means to connect me with others and to be in the world”.
From his studio he looks out on ancient cairns on Turlough Hill and the 11th-century Corcomroe Abbey in Co Clare. It’s a special place. “The air is sweet here.” This year he renovated a grain store at Sheshia Cottage where, in the spring, he will offer ‘Reflections from Sheshia’ workshops (contact email@example.com). Next autumn he has a solo show in Milan.
Mantle, a gorgeously atmospheric painting, was inspired by falcons. His great friend and neighbour James Irons is a falconer and “these winged birds of prey which are deployed to hunt by ethnic and nomadic peoples around the world are captured in the “cascading movements and repeat patterns” in the painting.
“When these creatures catch prey they instinctively cover their prey with their spread wings, their ‘mantle’.”
Hearns’s gestural abstractionist style allows for personal interpretations. In his paintings viewers will find both the elemental and eternal.
NOMAD, Hearns’s third solo show at Cadogan Gallery, London, until December 17.