John Sheehy: The Colours Choose Me

To celebrate the opening of an exhibition of the work of John Sheehy on Wednesday 20 August, we asked the artist himself a few questions about his life and work.. Here’s what he said…

Tell us a bit about your exhibition at House Gallery

It’s been organized by Michael Wong at “Cafe Art” and Claudia and Richard Todd of the 240 Project in Notting Hill. They have both been exhibiting my work across London for some years. The exhibition is a selection of my work, mostly made at the 240 Project which Richard has curated.

When did you first start making art and what first inspired you to start creating?

I started making art around fifteen years back at workshops the Big Issue was running, covering creative writing and art.
Its never one thing that inspires me, it could be the colours, the paint, an image or a memory. Often the same inspiration will come back to me.

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What is your process – right from initial idea to final piece?

It comes on very suddenly, I can be painting and/or writing and it finishes as quickly as it started. There’s no time limit, I can’t explain it. I notice if I’m playing the flute or banjo, I can throw them down quick and start painting. Other times I’m playing the harmonica and painting or drawing at the same time.

How do you decide when a piece is finished?

There is no decision it just stops. I kind of glance around, my hand stops for some reason or other. It’s the same when I’m writing, my hand stops then when I look at what I’ve made, it could be lyrics, a poem or a story.

What inspires or influences your work now?

Playing music. I play recklessly and I paint recklessly. There seems to be more effort in the music or to sing a song. I mean of course there is an effort in painting but somehow it just happens. No matter how many I make in a day, it doesn’t tire me. There is no fatigue. When I play the harmonica in the woods, the blackbird responds. That inspires me. People I meet, they can be a muse.

How would you describe your work in one sentence?

That’s a tough one. I would say my work is all related and any future work I create will be related too.

Do you have a favourite artist?

Well I suppose I do: Henri Matisse, Tracey Emin, Paul Cezanne but I go off them, up and down. Musicians also inspire me, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Shane McGowan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Rod Stewart, blues, folk and bluegrass too.

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What do you hope the audience get when looking at your work?

I would like to do something for them so they would get a vibration or so that the colour or movement touches them in some way. Maybe it will console or move them, ultimately making a connection.

What has been the high point of your artistic career?

When someone buys a piece of my work – knowing it’s going to their home, it touches my soul very deep. When I’m printing lino cuts and screen prints, not knowing what they will be until I lift them up and see the image is very exciting.
And I’m very excited about this exhibition.

What’s next for you as an artist?

It’s hard to say really. I would like a place, a building where I could lay all my art out and look at it all together. Prints, paintings, drawings, oil pastels, inks, sculptures, ceramics, poems, lyrics, and short stories. Sit down with them and play the flute, banjo and harmonica and create when the need strikes me. That will have to wait until I win the lottery.


John Sheehy: The Colours Choose Me is taking place at House Gallery, 70 Church Street, Camberwell, SE5 8QZ from 20 – 27 August 2014. The exhibition is in conjunction with Cafe Art and the 240 Project.

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