Pat the Wire, Pops Johnny, Terry from Derry, Gerry from Kerry Who Thinks He’s from Derry, Jimmy H from Clare, Tom ‘the Lady’ Delaney, Tony C and Sean M from Ballina, BBC Joe, Kerry Denis, Lumpy Tom and Hairy Mary, Donegal Pat, Squinty Mick, Holyhead Tom... Irish men and women in Camden.
I was drawn to London, and to Camden Town in particular, not to watch the stream of extroverts, trendsetters and fashionistas parading by, but to meet these expatriates whose lives run in quiet parallel to those jostling for position around them.
I sat and sketched - from Kentish Town Road down Camden High Street to Delancy Street and on to Mornington Crescent. As the weeks passed I noticed the same people would often appear at the same time in the same place to go about their daily rituals. I recorded glimpses of them: a shoulder line, a shadow under a nose, a crooked gait, a jawline, an ear, a mouth behind a tangled beard, a frown, eyes squinting in the London sun. These fragments would come together later in larger pieces in what were to become the Camden Men chalk drawings in this exhibition.
It was about this time I met Alex McDonnell and became involved with a charity called the Aisling Project. I had heard about their work bringing homeless, long-term emigrants back to Ireland and reconnecting them with their families.
I soon learnt that this is only part of their mission. As a sort of ‘Artist in Residence’, I spent the next six months observing the work of Alex and his co-workers John Glynn, the alcohol counsellor, and Charlie Conquest, the outreach worker. The scale of their operation quickly became apparent.
Of the multitudes who rely so heavily on Aisling’s outreach programme not all travel on the trips back home. For their own varied reasons many are in self-imposed exile and haven’t left London for Ireland since they arrived decades ago. At John and Alex’s side I was led around the Camden Town that I had come to know (or thought I had), this time going behind the imposing brick facades and into the hostels and bedsits: Number 88, Number 9, One-one-five, Arlington House, Conway House, Chichester Rd, Ashford Rd, Hilldrop Rd, Claremont Rd, Grange Park, Oakley Square and beyond Camden to Cricklewood Broadway, Brent, Kilburn High Rd, Quex Rd, Swiss Cottage, Hill 16 and to the drinking dens of Larch Road, Ivy Road, Olive Road, Pine Road and the Bone Yard.
I was now able to meet these people regularly and hear their stories; from the mundane to the hilarious to the tragic. The five men and one woman who agreed to sit for the Aisling Project series of portraits are the faces I’ve brought back to Dublin to stand as representatives for the scores of others I was fortunate enough to encounter, many of whom had similar histories and lived in similar predicaments.
There were big personalities, shy characters; some active, some bedridden. Some healthy, some ill. Some drinking, some in detox, some fully recovered. This is in no way to say that my experience was a comprehensive one. Hundreds of other men and women have come, and continue to come, through the door of 93b Agar Grove to receive the assistance of Alex, Charlie and John.
In the hope of raising money for this charity the centre piece of the exhibition, the painting Johnny ‘Pops’ Connors 1, will be put up for silent auction. The proceeds from this will go directly to the Aisling Project. To find out more about this charity please visit www.aisling.org.uk.
Cian McLoughlin, October 2008
CIAN McLOUGHLIN - Curriculum vitae
1977 ~ Born, Dublin
2000-02 ~ Architecture UCD
2000 ~ MA Film Studies UCD
1995-99 ~ Architecture UCD
2008 ~ Camden Town and the Aisling Project, Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
2006 ~ No Colour, No Colour, part of the Beckett Centenary Festival,
Office of Public Works, Dublin
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2008 ~ Davy Portrait Awards Exhibition, Dublin & Belfast
2008 ~ The F-Word, Iontas Arts Centre, Co. Monaghan
2007 ~ The F-Word, Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
2007 ~ RHA Annual Exhibition, Dublin
2006 ~ Ranelagh Arts Festival
2006 ~ Boyle Arts Festival
2006 ~ 150th Anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery, London
2005 ~ BP Portrait Award Exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, London
2005 ~ Portrait Ireland, Newtownbarry House, Wexford
2004 ~ RHA Annual Exhibition, Dublin
2007 ~ Sketch Section, 80 People, 80 Countries, 80 individual portraits
representing 80 nationalities found in Ireland
2007 ~ Paintings for the reception area of the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
2006 ~ Portrait of Brian Friel for the Gate Theatre, Dublin
2005 ~ Paintings for the lobby of Croke Park, Dublin
2006 ~ No Colour, No Colour, exhibition catalogue, published in association with the Beckett Centenary Festival
2005 ~ BP Portrait Award, exhibition catalogue, published by the National
Portrait Gallery, London