What lies beneath: Shane Berkery

Niall MacMonagle, The Sunday Independent, November 16, 2016

Niall MacMonagle


Three lads in their early twenties head away to Spain on holiday. Andrew hopes for a career in real estate, Daniel is a computer whiz and Shane Berkery is an artist. He's all eye. And no slumming for them. They've borrowed a villa overlooking Cadaques for a classier kind of holiday: swimming, reading - Berkery read Richard Ford's Canada, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let me Go - and a visit to Salvador Dali's house, now a museum, in nearby Port Lligat.

Berkery took 50 photographs and one of these holiday snaps became this double portrait Shaving. But you'll need to look again to spot both. There's Andrew. But where's Danny?! 

"They knew I was going to take photographs but I told them never to look at the camera and I took this when Andrew was shaving and Daniel was washing his face." 

Over Andrew's left shoulder a reflected towel on a hook, a plant to his right. And why this particular image? 

"For me it's striking because of the reflection," says Berkery. "Andrew is shaving with one of those one euro razors," and bottom right is the back of Daniel's reflected head, hands to face, bent towards the sink. This section is "deliberately unfinished". Berkery wanted to "give space to the viewer".

Flamingo pink, orange, pistachio green and "Spanish earth colours" make up the palette. Andrew's tanned body is realistically done but Berkery deliberately removed the pupil, making it "less personal". 

This blank eye "adds a cyborg or terminator effect". Berkery thinks the painting, which took two weeks, explores "memory fading out or memory coming together".

Asked why so many young artists use photographs or online images, Berkery says "having someone sit for a portrait doesn't really work anymore. Everything was slower before". 

Using family photographs, he works 10 to six, goes five or six days without interacting with other people and is used to living with himself. 

Winner of a Hennessy Craig Scholarship and the Whytes Award at the 2016 RHA annual exhibition, Berkery recently showed this work at the Edinburgh Art Fair.

And what did Andrew make of Shaving? 

"He was flattered," and they're still friends even if Berkery took the eye out of his head.