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Terry Donnelly's Biography

Terry Donnelly - St Marks

Born in Walker, Newcastle upon Tyne, I became one of three boys to be selected at the tender age of fifteen to sit the entrance exams to study Art full time at Jesmond College of Art and Industrial Design, Newcastle. From there on I briefly worked in an Architects Office; moved to a design studio in Blackburn; and also spent a short spell in London during the Swinging Sixties. Returning to Newcastle whilst working freelance for various design studios, I decided to devote myself to painting full-time. From this time forward, commissions included landscapes, townscapes, wildlife and portraits in a variety of mediums.

For six years I worked from my own small gallery in the heart of Newcastle, developing landscapes and scenes of Newcastle through watercolour and oil which proved extremely popular.

We have four children one of which lives in London and the others living at home with us. Our second son, Damian, is a keen birdwatcher and has gradually hung a variety of feeders, bird baths and boxes on the hawthorn tree in our garden, consequently on a busy bird day it feels as though I am working in an aviary as my studio is at the bottom of the garden but as distractions go itís pretty good one!

Living in the North East of England for many people it means one thing Ė football! Our twin boys Peter and Tim are football mad and are great supporters of Newcastle United, so my wife and I are always being kept up to date with the ups and downs of their heroes. It is a busy household with lots going on and plenty of humour being bantered around. I like that; lively young minds can often infuriate, but can also be great fun and never dull.

I have sold lots of work over the years and many pieces have gone to distant corners of the world. My job is to paint, but once the work is complete it is then up to the general public to decide what they like. The idea of working in a cocoon without being aware of the public and their opinions is absurd, so whenever I receive a call or letter of appreciation I feel a great sense of pride and encouragement along with a slice of modesty.

There are certain definitive inspirations behind my work in the form of old masters such as Turner, as are there countless painters and illustrators from all ages, including abstract, which I find a joy to look at. When I see a portrait by Vermeer I see near perfection. I wonder at the simple beauty of the composition, the light, proportion and the masterly execution. As to what really inspires anyone to paint, thatís a different matter! After all, you can be inspired and influenced by almost anything around you.

It''s not only that I want to paint, but that I have to, because I wouldn''t be able to stop even if I tried. I have always painted, scribbled and drawn, but never assumed it to become such a major part of my life. I had to accept from a very early age that it would always be with me, and impossible to ignore, whatever happened. I have produced a ''studies in light'' series and when I''m involved with this work I''m always trying to produce what I see from the inside. I''m trying to reproduce the little worlds that I see in my head. A lot of the time I work with a warm palette. Light, of course, is an important element and the source can be brash and bold or small and subtle.

For almost six years I ran an art gallery as well as producing my own works. My paintings varied enormously, but a key element captured was the production of local scenes. This work was perhaps more practical and less creative; the inspiration being the demand for recognisable city landmarks. That said, the work demanded strict adherence to the elements of draughtsmanship and perspective. I think that this is extremely important and is often overlooked these days as once you have achieved a confident level of both disciplines you can then move on and go in any direction you choose fully armed as it were.

I have used most mediums but for some time now I have been concentrating on the use of oils. This medium lends itself perfectly to the studies I am currently pursuing. Size of work can also occasionally be an inspiration Ė several years ago I was commissioned to paint murals on four large walls for a clientís private swimming pool and as I always work alone the scale of the project was daunting. However the challenge was met head on and after months of back breaking hard work the result was finally achieved and my clients were left extremely happy. Part of the inspiration behind that project was the challenge itself but also the sheer enjoyment of seeing the work develop on such a large scale.

Work must continue to develop and I canít always be certain of direction, but then not knowing what lies behind the door is part of the inspiration.

Utilising my preference for oil I like producing landscapes generated with a mix of drama and light from my home studio. Colours are mixed on sheets of glass or old plates rather than a specific mixing palette; using a large flat brush which can provide the necessary inferred detail on either primed canvas or timber board. My work is honest and instinctive. I find my best work is often done when I am not quite conscious of what I am doing.

The work that I see and later try to paint can be triggered by almost anything, the sheer obvious included Ė I remember as a child sitting on a bus and in front of me on the glass window was a small but quite beautiful landscape, a sunset I believe, it was in fact a tomato that some one had thrown against the window and it had splattered to leave a lovely little image, an image available to everyone. I havenít spent my life since then constantly looking for squashed tomatoes but I do think that images will find you.

I love music and sometimes that has the ability to paint images for you. I often sit and re-construct an image in my head, changing colours, moving horizons and trying different ideas. Sometimes, but not always, doing this can save a lot of time and wasted paint.

On one of my regular trips to London, I went to take in St Paulís Cathedral and reproduce it on my return. I did this and worked on it for quite a long time. The final piece was very tight, very logical and so St Paulís Cathedral. However, I had fallen into my own trap and simply become absorbed in building bricks and the result, however representational, totally lacked soul. Later on I approached the same subject from a different and more familiar angle and the result, which took far less time, was much better. It was livelier and vibrant with a sense of drama and retaining the necessary ingredients to initiate that it was St Paulís. In this case, as in many, less certainly means more! This is a technique I always try to adhere to.

My days vary and I am usually up early but donít begin the work of painting until around 9.30 am after I have sorted out any mail, fed the most pampered dog that I know, made necessary phone calls and had breakfast with my wife Kathleen before she goes off to work. Some mornings are spent going out for materials such as paints, boards, canvas etc. and there are days when I can spend a lot of time priming for work ahead.

My studio is now a sun house in the garden. I like the fact that it is detached from the house. This small sense of isolation and my own space is important to me. What time I finish in the studio varies. The call from the kitchen to me at the bottom of the garden usually brings me in for my evening meal around 6pm. I sort out the chaos of the kitchen after our evening meal with the help of a dishwasher and if the mood takes me I go back to the study to continue my work, especially if it is going well or I have a deadline to meet.

When I go into the studio first thing and see the work from the day before it can be a relief, a delight or occasionally a disappointment. I have learned over the years that you donít always see a glaring mistake until the benefit of a time lapse and when you do it hits you in the face. On days like that, which thankfully donít happen too often my day is set to put right the mistakes I see. I like to work quickly and get things in place before putting the real drama or atmosphere in place. I also like a sense of urgency because spontaneity can rise and bring with it unexpected delights.

Terry Donnelly's Artwork

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Shades of San Marco
by Terry Donnelly
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