Have paintbrush, will travel
Have paintbrush, will travel is the motto of Wexford businessman and artist Tony Robinson, an organiser of Art in the Open who certainly takes his own advice.
Tony urges international artists to come to Wexford for the Plein Air festival which he helped to establish nine years ago and is due to take place again from July 24 to August 1, and he repays the compliment by travelling abroad to paint as often as he can.
He recently spent a week in Tuscany at the invitation of Irishman and Tuscan Plein Air organiser Tom Byrne and an exhibition of the paintings he created there, is on show in Spectrum art shop and Pigyard Gallery which he runs in Selskar.
Tony has also painted several times in Croatia where he made artistic connections during a holiday six years ago as well as in Malta, Crete, Venice, Holland and the UK, much of the time with painting partner Paul Maloney of Paul Maloney Pottery. The pair had a joint exhibition in Wexford following a trip to Venice and have also exhibited together at the Artur Gallery run by Tea Blatinic in Dubrovnik and at Gallery X run by Christine Xeureb in Sliema, Malta.
'If you're a part-time artist or an amateur, it's a chance to put the time in and get some intensive painting done. I'm not one for lazing by the pool on holiday,' said the Newcastle native who obtained a degree in Fine Art from the North Staffordshire Polytechnic and resumed painting about a decade ago after a gap of 20 years.
Tony takes the tools of his trade with him, always carrying the brushes as hand luggage. 'The paints you have to check in but I keep the brushes with me because if they were lost that would be the end of the holiday. You can't bring your solvent on the plane, you have to buy it when you land.'
'Carrying back the wet oil paintings is the trickest part because they take a while to dry. I work on art board which makes transporting easier and I use two set sizes. I pack them together with silicone bumpers between them. Thankfully, I've never had a problem in customs or anything.'
He has enjoyed success at outdoor painting events, winning overall first prize at the Denbosch Plein Air Festival in Holland and also the Noordwijk festival where the reward was €2,000 worth of art materials which in Tony's case was akin to an Arab receiving sand.
He attends life drawing classes once a week in Tom King's studio in Castlebridge and joins the South East Plein Air group on regular excursions closer to home during the year. He enjoys the chance to socialise with other artists.
In 2007 Tony helped to found a fledgling Art in the Open festival in Wexford along with Neil O'Keeffe, Jane Meyler and Kevin Freeney, using the American model as an example.
The annual event, now sponsored by Wexford County Council, has become a successful fixture which is expected this year to attract over 150 artists from Russia, America, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Holland, France, the UK and Ireland to paint in beautiful locations around the county (including Curracloe, Tintern Abbey, Ballymore in Camolin) and in Inistioge and Passage East in deference to the Three Sisters culture bid.
As an example of how to start a festival from scratch, Wexford Art in the Open is a masterclass built on the imagination and hard work of a small number of people. It can now rightfully claim to be the largest festival of its kind in Europe.
When the town of Wells-Next-The Sea in Norfolk was thinking of starting a similar festival, it dispatched a scout to Wexford to see how it had been done here.
It is not just good for the artistic and tourism life of the county but also the economy. 'We estimated that it brings in about 1,500 bed nights. We get a lot of repeat visitors,' said Tony.
One of the Russian artists returning this year is Natalia Dik, a talented portrait painter who has a picture in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
When she was here a few years ago, Natalia charmed her way into the garden of the enclosed order of nuns at the Adoration Convent in Bride Street to produce a painting of an elderly nun which won the artists' prize at the festival. She is bringing the special painting with her to Wexford at the end of July to present it to the Borough District Council to hang in its portrait collection, which includes a painting of Billy Walsh executed by Tony Robinson.
LEFT: Paintings from Tony's 'Under The Tuscan Sun' exhibition, which runs at the Pigyard Gallery, Selskar, Wexford, until June 20.