Kieran McGonnell (Artist)
Contemporary American Painting

Kieran McGonnell, one of the foremost contemporary Irish-born artists died suddenly on January 11, 2011.    McGonnell was residing in Chicago, IL, where he had moved recently from Brooklyn, NY.   In an article in the Irish Echo entitled ‘Top 40 under 40’, McGonnell had been selected as one of the top Irish success stories living in the U.S.   According to his long-time partner, Gregg Driben, McGonnell passed away due to complications from a head injury that he suffered in November.

painting of butterflies flying in circles

painting of koi fish swimming in circles

oil paintings of statue of liberty and the empire state building

modern painting of abraham lincoln by kieran mcgonnell

modern abstract jesus painting

About the Artist
McGonnell’s innovative artwork was characterized by bold and vivid use of color, incorporating everything from oil paint, watercolors and air brush spray paint, and featured a cavalcade of dazzling imagery from history, mythology, literature and architecture to popular culture and politics.

In an interview with Irish Connections magazine, McGonnell described his disciplined approach to creating his art work: “Once I decided that painting was the career for me, life became simpler.   Painting became part of my daily discipline and structure.   Every day is a new start, it’s a commitment. If you aren’t starting every day, it is time to put down the brush.   While I try to express a timeless quality in my work, the reality is that each day’s work is unique, the paintings represent an encapsulated slice of time.”

Born James Kieran McGonnell in Cork City, Ireland, on August 13, 1967, the artist came to the United States to study Studio Art and Art History at Hunter College in New York City.

McGonnell’s work was exhibited extensively over the past twenty years in locations on both sides of the Atlantic.  In the U.S., his work has been exhibited at the Haggerty Museum (Milwaukee), Jan Larsen Fine Art (NY), Christopher Henry Gallery (NY), Axel-Raben Fine Art (NY), and hundreds of other locations including The Kennedy Center Festival.   In Ireland, his work has been exhibited at the Cross Gallery in Dublin and Miriam Bailey Gallery in Cork.

McGonnell’s vibrant and evocative work was used as the backdrop for the Fall 2000 New York Fashion previews for the prominent Men’s Fashion Magazine, D.N.R. He also painted stage designs for Sean Curran Modern Dance Company’s “Six Laments”, which has been touring the U.S. since its premiere at Jacob’s Pillow Modern Dance Festival in 1999.  McGonnell had been profiled in numerous publications throughout the U.S. and Ireland, including the New York Times, Boston Globe, L.A. Times, Irish Tribune and Irish Business Post.

Most recently, McGonnell and Gregg Driben had launched a new online art venture to promote affordable art, including posters, prints and apparel. As he said in a recent interview, “I am always exploring new ways for my art to reach and impact different people who come from different walks of life.”

He was also working on a series of paintings inspired by his new home in the American Midwest, finding artist nourishment in its seemingly endless prairies and rustic homesteads.

Drawing inspiration from such divergent artists and writers such as Henri Matisse, Louise Nevelson, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Virginia Woolf and Jim Thompson, he was especially drawn to his fellow countrymen, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and perhaps Ireland’s greatest living painter, Lous le Brocquy.  Many of McGonnell’s recent paintings were inspired by the Celtic rhythms of Yeats’ poetry. Yeats’ pulsating imagery was a true beacon for McGonnell’s artistic endeavors, including his use of painted concentric circles surrounding Iconic images, which seem to hearken back to Yeats’ vision of the swirling vortex of time and history (“Turning and turning in the widening gyre”) in his poem “The Second Coming”.

In a recent interview with The Art List, an online art community, McGonnell responded to question about his inspiration as an artist, saying, “Art has always fascinated me with its ability to communicate very complex questions and emotions about the human condition.  Art making is a primeval force within human beings to express how they feel about being alive.”

Fortunately, in his art work, McGonnell is keenly alive and his passionate intensity and originality inextinguishable.

In addition to his partner of 17 years, Gregg Driben, McGonnell is survived by his mother, Carmel McGonnell; brothers, Paul and Aiden; and sister, Karen. His adoring dogs, Janis Joplin and Spike Lee, look for him every day since his untimely accident.

Artist Statement
Fall, 2010

My newest work, like my work over the years, explores contemporary American society. It is a collection of new oil paintings that utilize the repetition and rhythm of concentric circles paired with graphics, as well as my signature watercolors that continue to be bold, fresh and alive.

The piece titled ‘Flirt’ depicts two butterflies meeting for the first time on a summer morning. The vibrant colors capture the joy and heat of a summer day. The butterflies are suspended in a romantic timeless dance, but will they hook up?

The recent oil on canvas, “blackened koi fish” is a protest painting about the gulf spill, taking BP to task for the destruction of wildlife in the gulf coast. The media might stop covering the spill soon, but the story of the devastation won’t really unfold for years to come.

The watercolor pieces are a bold example of a fresh use for the medium. They are neo-romantic through and through. The vibrant colors of the divers explore the tensions between the fluid nature of the watercolor and the rigid nature of the photographs by controversial photographer Leni Riefenstahl.

My latest project, Vincent & Andy, is an affordable art site, blog and labor of love. I have never believed in “art only for the elite”, and I am always exploring new ways for my art to reach and impact different people who come from different walks of life. To check out my posters, prints and apparel, use the website link below.

Note from the admin:  Please follow artist Kieran McGonnell on Facebook & twitter as well as consider collecting one of his artworks.  Artists and their art can be admired during their lives, but also for decades and centuries to come.  May Kieran’s art enlighten the days of countless viewers far into the future.

Artist Kieran McGonnell’s Website & Social Media

Article by James Day

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3 thoughts on “Celebrate the Life & Art of Artist Kieran McGonnell”

  1. Being a butterfly fan, I really like McGonnell’s “Flirt”. Some of his work reminds me of cloisonné. I enjoy his use of colors and also his works in shades of grey.

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