Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

TP Flanagan: Painter with brush stroke of genius

TP Flanagan changed the way we see the Irish landscape.

With his stunning watercolours and intricate brush strokes, he was one of the most successful artists of his generation.

For more than 60 years he shaped the face of landscape painting in Northern Ireland and was known internationally for his rural scenes of his native Fermanagh and Sligo.

Friends and colleagues have paid tribute to the Enniskillen-born artist, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 80.

Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who dedicated his 1969 poem Bogland to Flanagan, said he was “a teacher and a friend” whose work held a “deep personal significance”.

Others have called him “a true gentleman” and a “master craftsman”, who continued painting in his tiny studio in south Belfast right up until the day he died. Dr Brian Kennedy, former head of art at the Ulster Museum and Flanagan’s biographer, said his loss was “a great shock to the art community”.

He added: “Terry once said to me that he had hesitated to become a painter in Northern Ireland because so many artists like Yeats, Tom Carr and Paul Henry had already said so much about it and he felt he had nothing to add.

“He didn’t want an accurate representation of the scene, but something that showed his feelings and experiences of the place.”

Flanagan was born in Co Fermanagh in 1929 and spent much of his childhood walking through the landscape scenes he later produced in watercolour.

After studying at the Belfast College of Art until 1953, he became a teacher at St Mary’s College of Education.| The father-of-three, who leaves behind widow Sheelagh and three children, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster just before his 80th birthday.

His watercolour paintings, famed for their free brush strokes and dramatic colours, were exhibited recently in the FE Williams Gallery in Banbridge and Belfast’s Ormeau Baths.

Flanagan became friends with Nobel-prize winning poet Heaney when the two lived in Belfast in the early 1950s. Dr Kennedy said his friendship with Heaney marked a “watershed” in his work.

“In 1967 the Heaney family and the Flanagans went to Gortahork in Co Donegal, which was an extremely fertile period for both of them,” he said.

“Terry would be off doing his paintings and Seamus would be with him getting ideas for his poetry, and it was almost like a turning point in both of their careers.

“It helped Terry get rid of the sentimentality in landscape painting. For him, a piece of work recorded his thoughts and feelings about a place he’d been to.” Flanagan, who worked from home, retired from teaching in 1983 but continued to paint right up until his death.

His biographer said he had recently completed three large watercolours, which remain on his easel in his Belfast studio.

His work is represented in collections throughout Ireland and across the world, including the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

Shan McAnena, curator of art at Queen’s University in Belfast, said Flanagan was a “moderniser”.

“In the last 50 years he’s changed the way people think about the Irish landscape.” she said.

TP Flanagan’s funeral is expected to take place in Belfast tomorrow, with lifelong friends Heaney and playwright Brian Friel in attendance.



Background

TP Flanagan was born in Enniskillen in 1929 and studied painting at the Belfast College of Art. He became a teacher at St Mary’s College of Education in Belfast, where he became close friends with Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He was renowned for his distinctive watercolours and landscapes. He was awarded an honourary doctorate at the University of Ulster in 2010 in recognition of his contribution to art.

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