Figures from the cork arts pay tribute to the late painter Maurice Desmond
Maurice Desmond has been a mainstay of the Irish art scene for over fifty years. Born in Co Louth, he studied at the Limerick School of Art and won first prize for his painting at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1969.
He moved to Cork, married Deirdre Meaney, an artist and educator who predeceased him in 1999, and devoted himself to painting full time. An early interest in figuration eventually gave way to an engagement with landscape that sustained his interest over the following decades.
News of Desmond’s passing, aged 76, was greeted with sadness by friends and colleagues in the art world. “I will miss him very much,” says artist Bill Griffin. “I had known him forever. Back then, we used to have a few pints with entertainers John Burke and Willie Harrington at Keeley’s, a bohemian bar near Patrick’s St.
“He was a lovely painter, a great colourist. Even in his last show at Lavit Gallery in 2019, he was experimenting with new ideas.”
In Cork, Desmond has exhibited at the Lavit and Vangard galleries, and has also enjoyed a long association with the Triskel Arts Centre. “There was a legendary solo exhibition in 1988, shortly after Triskel moved into his new home on Tobin Street,” recalls center director Tony Sheehan.
“Everyone was there, and all the paintings sold out in twenty minutes. Maurice had his studio across from the courthouse at the time, and it was hugely popular with the legal crowd. Chief Justice Henchy gave the opening address and Maurice joked that if any of us had any legal problems, now was the time to get some free advice, because all the lawyers and notaries in the city had presented themselves.
“He was a wonderful man. I have always thought that he and Seán McSweeney were the finest landscapers in the country. I am truly saddened to hear of his passing.”
Another longtime friend was author and playwright Conal Creedon. “Maurice is one of those rare artists whose work is his signature and his bond. I once described his work as ‘monumental abstraction’ – and just like his work, Maurice was contemplative, mad at heart, passionate, rich in substance, analytical to the smallest detail. Never one to wallow in the usual or the mundane – Maurice thrived on epic.
In Dublin, Desmond exhibited regularly at the Hallworth Gallery in Merrion Square, and he invited Creedon to write the catalog introduction for a solo exhibition in 1995. Such an honor. For me personally, Maurice always extended the hand of friendship, he was great company – and if ever that phrase ‘Ní Bheidh A Leithéid Ann Arís’ was tailor-made – there will never be a more suitable person than Maurice to carry it. ”
Desmond’s work can be found in a number of major collections, such as those of the Arts Council, AIB, University of Limerick and the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. The Crawford’s director, Mary McCarthy, describes him today as “an artist of character and determination. We are all very saddened to learn of his passing. Maurice will be missed by all involved in the arts in Cork and beyond.
Desmond, who lived near St Luke’s, is survived by his children, Aoife and Shane.