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Long and distinguished career of humble artist Terry Searle

August 4th, 2017 10:41 PM

By Southern Star Team

A ‘slightly younger' Terry at work in his Cork studio.

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With a retrospective exhibiton of his work opening here in August, Carin Mac Cana profiles artist Terry Searle, who moved to West Cork from London in the 80s, and celebrates his 80th this year.

ARTIST Terry Searle, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, is having a retrospective show of his work in Skibbereen this August. He is well known for his dramatic and colourful landscape painting, forming part of many private and public collections.

In spite of a long and distinguished list of past exhibitions, Terry is a very humble man. He is the kind of artist who does not promote himself but instead relies on opportunities coming to him. 

When asked for a CV, it is his wife Penny, also an artist, who digs one out, together with articles and other writings. He says he prefers to ‘go with the flow'. 

In this regard he is rather typical of the young bohemians who moved here from England in the 1980s, looking for a slower pace of life and freedom from the rat race.

Terry was born in England 1936 and grew up in London's East End. His family was poor working class and early on his mother was left alone to fend for the family. During the war years Terry, together with many children, were sent to the countryside, away from the blitz. His six years spent there were possibly influential in his love of nature, something that came to dominate his work at a later stage.

During his years in National Service Terry met several budding actors, artists and musicians who, like him, were doing their stint of duty before going to college. He became curious about this alternative way of life and on his discharge from service, he moved to London. Once settled there, he took up nightclasses at Goldsmiths College of Art. Later he was admitted to full time study there and at the renowned St Martin's College.

Terry received no grant and had to work hard to support himself. He had a variety of packing jobs for lorries, mainly night shifts. Money was scarce. Food consisted mainly of the tinned variety, bought from army surplus stores, leftover from the war. But life in the coffee shops in Soho was enjoyable, with a lively social scene.

Even though life in London was good, when two friends asked him to join them on a trip to Ireland, Terry decided to go. He became enchanted with the beauty of West Cork and loved the easy pace of life here, so much so that after several return trips, decided to move over permanently in 1981. With no firm plan in mind other than to paint, he found lodgings with space to work near Skibbereen and began his new life. He quickly established himself and was asked to participate in several exhibitions, beginning with a show at The Forrester's Gallery in Bandon, which was very successful. Through the next 20 years he had work in many prestigious venues, such as The Taylor Gallery,The Caldwell Gallery, Guinness Gallery, RHA and the Exhibition of Living Art,  all in Dublin, along with the Claremorris Open and EVA in Limerick. 

Closer to home, he had two shows at Margaret Warren's boathouse gallery in Castletownshend, the Crawford Gallery in 1985 and two ‘Living Landscape' shows at the West Cork Arts Centre. During his early years in Ireland Terry met Penny Dixie. Together they did up many derelict houses in West Cork, and transformed them into beautiful homes. The most idyllic of them is perhaps their beloved ‘Coolnaclehy', a little piece of paradise where Terry also held exhibitions and where the children could swim in the river.

Terry was also instrumental in the creation of West Cork Arts Centre. 

Both Penny and Terry were  members of the Skibbereen Arts and Theatre Society that held annual shows at Abbeystrewry Hall, designed and hung by Brian Aldridge. 

Terry speaks fondly of the festive atmosphere at these events, coinciding with The Welcome Home Week, similar to recent The Gathering, when people who had emigrated flew back to see family and friends.

In 2010 Terry was diagnosed with a degenerative neuromuscular disease. He continued working for some years, but in April this year he had to put down his brushes for good. The exhibition in August is a celebration of a long and prolific creative life and will showcase a large selection of his vibrant paintings. The hard work of locating and organising so much sold work, done by Penny, will give viewers the opportunity of seeing his work held in private and public collections all brought together under one roof. Along with Terry's work, there will also be sculptures by Ian McNinch, artist and Terry's long-time friend.


The Terry Searle Retrospective is at the O'Driscoll Building in Skibbereen from August 5th until September 2nd, opening on Saturday August 5th at 1pm and every day, 11am-5pm.


Carin Mac Cana is an artist and part-time lecturer in art.


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