Among his many sharp observations, Oscar Wilde said that a work of art was “the unique result of a unique temperament.”
Derry man Terry Coyle’s collection of work, currently on show at the Gordon Gallery on Pump Street, is a fine example of just that. The work, spanning over a period of three years, takes an unobtrusive look at some of the most familiar aspects of life in the North West.
Entitled ‘Walls, Gates and Spires,’ the stunning collection delivers on all three fronts and leaves you wanting more.
The local artist behind the work has the same soft approach about him as his work - and the kind of temperament that puts those non art experts among us instantly at ease.
And with the majority of the population still awkward at the thought of crossing the threshold of an art gallery, that’s a very welcome trait.
After a quick tour of the exhibition earlier this week, we make our way to Terry’s studio, directly above the Gordon Gallery for a talk about his inspirations.
The Creggan born artist rents the space alongside a number of others as part of the charitable organisation ‘Studio 6ix.’ It’s every inch a working studio, with four plastic bags full of wood chippings from the frames Terry used for his current exhibition. Along with producing the work, he does his own framing. He also teaches part time in Belmont and Foyleview Schools. Even if afforded the financial luxury of being able to spend most of his time in the studio, Terry says he probably wouldn’t.
“You have to live in the real world too,” he smiles. “After all, that’s where everything happens.”
It’s that grounded quality in Terry himself which comes through in his work. We see Derry at its most real.
Terry grew up in Westway, one of a family of 13 children with his parents Pearse and Maire Coyle.
Looking at his earliest childhood influences, he says he may have been introduced to the concept of art by his father.
“I always remember my dad making very good and accurate drawings of us as children. He could do it in about ten minutes and they were brilliant. Maybe that’s where I got it from at the start. I think my dad could have been an artist but I suppose he never really got the opportunity,” he says.
It wasn’t a career in art that Terry had in mind either, moving through school at Slievemore Primary and later at St Brigid’s College in Carnhill.
After school he went to Derry’s Tech to study engineering, but quickly decided it wasn’t for him.
“Art was always the only subject where time passed quickly for me,” says Terry.
“When I went to do engineering I remember just sitting there one day in the classroom and I had to tell the teacher that it just wasn’t for me. The teacher asked me if there was anything else I was interested in. When I said art, he sent me to the art room in the Tech. It was this big room, full of light, and I knew within two seconds that I was in the right place. “I had a great teacher there called Benny McCormick. Sadly Benny died a few years ago but he was brilliant. He believed in teaching art from experience. He encouraged us to look at art and observe it and to take in nature, and people and landscapes. He was a great teacher, and it all started off for me from there.”
Moving on to study art at university in Newcastle, Terry had a less positive experience in terms of the way the subject was taught and found himself moving away from the idea of studying art. He came back home and moved into a more practical line of work, starting a job in the Essex factory.
“I’d left it behind totally in my mind and I just started working. After about a year in the job I remember standing on the assembly line, looking out a window at a cherry tree blowing in the wind and I really wanted to paint it. That need and want to do art always seemed to come back to me.”
Soon after that Terry went back to the drawing board and moved onto the Belfast College of Art to study for his degree. Since then, he’s continued to paint. It is, he says, a never ending learning curve.
“In so many ways you can only really teach yourself and I’m always learning. I’m always wanting to paint better, I still haven’t reached where I want to be.”
For his next collection Terry is hoping to focus on a subject as much a part of Derry as the Guildhall clock.
“My next collection will focus on the rain,” he says. “Looking out the window of his Pump Street studio at cloudy grey skies.
“We don’t live in a country where the sun shines all the time. For me, the challenge is not to paint these attractive scenes but it’s about finding beauty in the reality of what we see every day. And we see a lot of rain.”
This year so far Terry’s been kept busy with work at the London Street Gallery, he’s been continuing to teach and in between finds time to spend in the studio. He works between Derry and Donegal. Married to BBC Radio Foyle presenter Sarah Brett, Terry spends time in the studio of his father-in-law, well known Donegal artist Aubrey Brett. He’s equally as inspired by the raw Donegal landscape in Portnoo as he is by the surroundings of his home city.
Like many talented people who are part of the fabric of Derry, he doesn’t have lofty notions, despite having produced a sublime series of paintings.
“I still look at it as a trade,” he says. “I’m lucky to be able to do this and when work sells, that’s great, but it doesn’t always and so you have to be a Jack of all trades, that’s just the way it works.”
Terry’s exhibition at the Gordon Gallery runs until September 28 and he’ll also be exhibiting work, including some recent additions to his collections, at the Playhouse at the beginning of November.
“It’s really about getting people to come in the door and look at the work,” he says. “I think a lot of people are still put off by art galleries but it’s not about what you know or don’t know about art, it’s about what you get from that painting in front of you on the wall.”