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One Irish Soul

The Folk Art of Oliver Curran

by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder

Oliver Curran was born in Ireland in 1949. The son of hard working parents, he lived an impoverished life in a section of town filled with ghosts of those who had been before.

Life was not easy. Oliver's father worked on the docks shoveling coal and his mother cleaned rooms for others. By the time Oliver was seven, he worked in the local market selling items and wrapping clothes. Later as a young teen, he worked the hay fields for sixpence a day.

Oliver still remembers the holes in his shoes. He also recalls his father's love of boats, and he remembers him drawing boats on the wrappers of his cigarette pack. Somewhere along the way, his father's simple pleasure must have woken a tiny flicker of interest in drawing and art for Oliver.

The Curran's believed in raising their offspring with the rod in a fiercely religious atmosphere. With the threat of the Almighty's wrath never far away, it was no wonder that at age 14, Oliver Curran ran away. He went to the sea in search of a life far removed from Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland - the place of his beginning.

He hid away in a boat and did not show himself until the vessel was far away at sea. Upon finding the young boy, the Captain of the boat wired Oliver's parents. But Oliver wanted no part of going back, in fact he was not to return to his hometown for another twenty years.

It was to be a life of learning for Oliver, learning to cope on his own, and then to master all kinds of jobs. His classroom was the world which he traveled by sea and on foot. Through the years that followed, Oliver worked at a variety of jobs - one of them being a coal miner in Cornwall England. It was in Cornwall where Oliver started hanging out with members of music bands. He even became a roadie for Freddie Mercury's band, then called The Sandmen. Then, somewhere along the way Oliver became involved in restoring Irish peninsular furniture and renovating Irish cottages. It was this involvement with the stuff that belonged to others that made Oliver think about his heritage, his roots, and the people who had lived and died in those Irish cottages.

He cleared hundreds of cottages and got to know their inhabitants of long ago and the hard times and loneliness they suffered. The remote cottages found in Mayo and Galway still showed remnants of the ravages of the Cromwell days, hidden amongst the hills in ruins, with skeletons of a never forgotten time, with long gone spirits still wandering.

These belongings... these homes... these memories... they are what Oliver Curran's art is all about.

Each painting portrays a blueness - a sadness of the past, of injustice, of loss. As Oliver himself says. "My blues come from a very blue life, that continues in our land today, they come from the land and its peoples all those years ago and for those of the present time, when you see me paint a colored sky over our blue mountains then we are at one."

The work of Oliver Curran tells a tale of a people. Oliver's people.

The truth of a painting like The Auction" comes as a stark reminder that in our world there are still places where the stuff of people (our stuff) can be sold, can be taken... can be forgotten.

It takes an artist like Oliver Curran - a self taught man in every way - to show us the images of the blues of a land, and a people. It also gives us hope. For through Oliver's eyes, perhaps we will see a better world. A world where people have respect for one another. A world where our differences become our common bond.

Text © Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder; Photos Reprinted with Permission

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