Sitting in the Mill Cove Gallery, one’s eyes repeatedly dart from one side of the room to the next such is the array of sculptures, ceramics and paintings on display.
It’s a good thing, in that case, that the gallery is actually due to expand into the unit next door in the coming weeks – more room for those roaming eyes.
Irish Country Living sits down with the gallery director and proprietor, John Goode, and to say John has many strings to his bow would be an understatement.
When asked if he was artistic growing up, he non-chalantly replies: “No, I’m a dentist.”
Practicing in Dublin, John explains that he had patients for whom money would have been tight and would trade their art in return for the dental work he carried out.
“And that’s how it all started,” he explains. Having moved from Dublin in 1999, John set up the gallery as “kind of a hobby”.
“The fellow who was running my practice said, ‘You can sell me the practice and I’ll open up beside you’, so I said ‘You can buy it’,” he explains. And so, John bid farewell to the Baggot Street clinic and went on to open four galleries over the coming two decades – two of which were in Dublin, one in Kenmare and one in Castletownbere, Co Cork.
John is also just after writing his third book, the third edition of Irish Ceramics which he expects to hit the shelves in the next month or so. Remember those strings and that bow?
A business-art collaboration
In July-August 2021, John – with the help of Anne-Marie Cleary of the Kenmare Marketing and Events Group (KMEG) – launched an initiative to help boost artists, both locally and nationally. Businesses of all kinds offered up their shop windows to display artwork in what became known as the Kenmare Windows Summer Arts Exhibition.
“We did it before in Castletownbere – we did the Beara Arts Festival and then we did the Mill Cove Awards – it was an open-submission thing where it was community-based, and we came over here (to Kenmare) and we wanted to do an arts festival – so this is like a taster.”
The proof of support for schemes like this is in the numbers. Over 80 businesses in the town agreed to exhibit works in their windows. As for the artists themselves, John admits they “only expected 30 to 40” to submit work, but there are over 150 works of art all over the town. Around 90% of the artists are local to the area, with others submitting works from all around the country.
Lockdown creativity and agri art
John acknowledges that the lockdowns provided some people the time to get more artistic.
“People have been locked down, so they’ve been home painting pictures and being creative and they have loads of stuff to sell, so it’s great,” he says.
More than just that, some young talent has not gone unnoticed, with John telling Irish Country Living that a new award had to be brought in this year – Emerging Young Artist – which went 15-year-old local artist Gemma Meyer for an oil-on-canvas creation.
Some of the submissions to the exhibition, which caught the eye of Irish Country Living, were of an agricultural genre (see below). When I broach the subject, the talent in that genre cannot be denied. “I suppose when you look at the work a good 70-80% of is responding to the land, to the countryside,” John says.
While on display, “window shoppers” had the opportunity to purchase some of the works exhibited. In fact, a lot of the pieces did indeed sell. During our chat, John was interrupted by a customer who had come to collect her painting which she had spotted in the window of Expert Electrical.
During the time the exhibition was taking place, KMEG was also running Kenmare’s Scene on the Green; where plenty of activities and performances (from outdoor yoga and exercise classes, to live music and a performance of John B Keane’s The Matchmaker) were taking place in the local park.
The plan now is to turn the exhibition into an arts festival next year, with the intention of expanding it into the local arts centre. But for this year, the response has been overwhelming, from everyone’s point of view.
“It’s been very positive. The idea behind it was to get the artists, with their work [on display], but also to bring people into parts of the town they normally don’t go into.”
Having left behind his career in dentistry, John’s passion for art is clearly evident in how he speaks about his gallery, his book and his artistic community. “I just love the energy behind it. If I can make money from it, it’s a bonus.”