Ink and Canvas

Nigel Shafran Captures the Double Life of JP Donleavy

“Painting and writing are similar in a way,” explains JP Donleavy about his long career combining both talents. “For one you use a brush and for the other a pen with which you paint words on a page.” The controversial Irish-American author leapt to prominence in 1955 with the publication and subsequent condemnation of his seminal picaresque novel The Ginger Man, the outcry resulting in the book being temporarily banned in Ireland and the US. Today, it is featured on The Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. Donleavy’s art certainly occupies the same bawdy universe as his novels, his paintings repeatedly featuring strange, comic and often sexualized characters and animals, as well as abstracted cityscapes. “Something would catch my attention and I’d embellish it, and then once that happened each picture I would do would become an inspiration for the next one,” he muses about his prolific outpouring of work. Despite the social commentary inherent in Donleavy’s art and writing, since 1972 he has lived at Levington Park, a large Georgian house in Westmeath, Ireland, he describes as “a social no-go area,” and “pretty ideal” for the lack of any interruptions. Nevertheless, he admits that every now and again he needs to soak up the atmosphere of a major city in order to keep himself engaged. “I have made trips to New York by myself to walk the streets, loitering for hours on steps of hotels watching the passing population.”

JP Donleavy was photographed exclusively for NOWNESS at his home in Westmeath, Ireland.

Identities in the Original -
Paintings by JP Donleavy opens on April 15th at The Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge MA
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