Gerard Dillon

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Gerard Dillon (1916 – 14 June 1971) was an Irish artist.

Born in Belfast, he left school at the age of fourteen and for seven years worked as a painter and decorator, mostly in London. From an early age he was interested in art, cinema, and theatre. About 1936 he started out as an artist, almost entirely self-taught but attended art classes in Belfast for a short period. He and Dan O'Neill were painting acquaintances.

Dillon's Connemara landscapes provided the viewer with context, portraits of the characters who worked the land, atmosphere and idiosyncratic colour interpretations.

At the age of eighteen, Dillon went to London, initially working as a decorator. With the outbreak of the second World War, Dillon returned to Belfast. The outbreak of war in 1939 prevented his return to London, and over the next five years he developed as a painter in Dublin and Belfast. His works during this period were more than simple depictions of the life and people around him, they were reactions and interactions in paint.

In 1942, Gerard's first solo exhibition was opened by his friend and fellow artist, Mainie Jellett at The Country Shop, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. "Father, Forgive Them Their Sins" featured depicting his concerns about the new War that had broken out.

But despite a growing reputation, he had to return to London in 1944 to work on demolition gangs to restore his finances, but after the war he became more successful as an artist.

In the late 1940s and during the 1950s, Dillon found himself favouring the town of Roundstone, Connemara - a little village at the edge of existence, the Twelve Pin mountains commanding the skyline to one side and the sea and the Island of Inishlackan to the other.

In 1958 had the double honour of representing Ireland at the Guggenheim International, and Great Britain at the Pittsburg International Exhibition. He travelled widely in Europe and taught for brief periods in the London art schools.

In 1967, Dillon had a stroke and spent six weeks in hospital, from this time his work changed direction. He realized that he had a problem from which he was most likely going to die prematurely; his three brothers were already in the grave from similar heart diseases. This notion of imminent death sent his work almost into another world, a realm of dreams and paintings intimating his death.

The summer of 1968 he was back in Dublin, where he helped to design sets and costumes for O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. He continued to paint and also to make tapestries, sitting at his Singer sewing machine.

In 1969, Dillon pulled his artworks from the Belfast leg of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art as a public protest against troubles and the 'arrogance of the Unionist mob' as he put it in a letter to the Irish Times, 20 August. However, he admitted years later that it was a gesture which was slightly over the top since, as Michael Longley had retorted in a further letter, 'Belfast needed creativity, it needed people like Gerard Dillon' at this time.

During his last years, he was invited to be involved in a children's art workshop in The National Gallery of Ireland.

Dillon died of a second stroke on 14 June 1971 at the age of 55; his grave, as requested, is unmarked in Belfast Milltown Cemetery.


Further reading

  • James White, Gerard Dillon, An Illustrated Biography, Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1994.
  • Mary Cosgrove, A Celebration of Gerard Dillon, Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, Belfast 2011
  • Karen Reihill, Gerard Dillon Art and Friendships, published by Adams Auctioneers ( Dublin and Clandeboye July/August 2013