When well-known artist Gary Bonner took on one of his most challenging commissions to date he wanted to make sure it was an image that would not end up a ‘Mod Con’.
The striking oil painting he carried out last winter, which was unveiled recently, is of Letterkenny man John Doherty - an enthusiast of the 1960’s style ‘Mod’ culture.
Mods or ‘Modernists’ was a distinct subculture of music, style and scooters that began in London in the 1960’s but there is still a following of the era across the world and John ‘The Mod’ Doherty, who now lives in Kilmacrennan, is well known for his love of all things Mod.
With the attention to style and detail Mod culture demands, Gary had to make sure he did his best to represent all aspects of the painting he was undertaking.
Originally from Illistrin in Letterkenny, Gary has been a full-time artist for over ten years and is now based in Portnablagh.
His artistic training led him to Derry for two years to achieve his Diploma in Art and Design before he moved on to earn his Degree in Visual Communication/Illustration in University of Ulster, graduating in 1998.
Inspired by the Donegal landscape, he returned to open his own successful studio in Donegal having worked as an Artist/Illustrator in Belfast for three years.
Prior to that he spent several years travelling to Canada, Holland, Denmark, Prague and Italy studying the different work, architecture and style which provided a basis of sorts for his own art.
Gary says his artistic influences vary from the Italian Renaissance masters to varied modern contemporary artists.
It was through a chance meeting near John’s home in Kilmacrennan when John spied Gary’s classic scooter outside a petrol station that the two began talking. They’ve been friends since.
As there were a number of other scooter and Mod enthusiasts in the locality, coupled with a large national and international scene, a local club called the ‘Suited and Booted Scooter Club’ was born. Both artist and subject are club members with John being regarded as one of its leaders.
Gary has a rich and varied portfolio in his painting and illustrations catalogue and when the chance came along to try something a little bit different he was glad to take on his latest commission.
With a personal interest in scooters and the culture as well as needing to make sure he captured a good likeness of John, Gary says it was a challenging and “tricky” project.
“It started at the end of last summer but I really did most of the work over last Christmas. Overall it took about two months. It is oil on canvass and it was tricky because the first thing I had to do was get the likeness right as this is a real person who people will know. Once the likeness was there that was a relief and I could relax and enjoy the painting. The work on the bike came after that,” he stated.
“It was a private commission and it was an interesting piece for me to take on. It was a challenge to me because of the personal interest and John is such a great character. We are both members of the Suited and Booted scooter club and he was a very enthusiastic model,” he says.
To add to the sense of fun with the finished image, they held a special “unveiling” of the painting recently where John and his eight children travelled to the Greendoor Studio and Gary said he was very pleased with their reaction as the curtain fell away from the artwork.
The distinctive painting then went on display at the studio for a while before being handed over to John.
Gary explains that he completed certain sections of the painting while manning the studio and their visitors would often watch the work on the scooter painting from over his shoulder.
With art in his blood from a young age, it is also runs deep in his family.
His wife Adrienne Rafferty is an award winning artist and together with her parents, artists Kevin and Kate Rafferty, they run the popular Greendoor Studio in Portnablagh, near Dunfanaghy.
For the last two years it has also been Gary and Adrienne’s home, living there full-time with their bouncing baby, five-month-old Beau Alice, after they got married in Italy.
He says they still make annual trips to Italy and the inspiration of the Mediterranean country has a large influence in all the artists at the Greendoor Studio. The studio takes its name from the green-doored old garage where the gallery now stands.
Gary still maintains a studio in Letterkenny as well and is looking forward to starting a new ‘Donegal Portrait Studio’ in addition to his other work.
To see more of his work check out www.garybonner.net or www.greendoorstudio.net