Kevin Sharkey (61) is an artist. He was born in a mother-and-baby home on Navan Road and adopted when he was six months old. He was a TV presenter, actor and songwriter. He is now a full-time artist with his own gallery. He lives in Dublin.
Tell us about your childhood.
I was born in a mother and baby home to a Dublin woman and a Nigerian student. At six months I was taken into a large family in Killybegs. There were seven children and I was second to last. I grew up as the only black kid in the community.
What was it like being perceived as different?
The locals were intrigued and very welcoming. They invited me to their house for a cup of tea. It wasn’t just “let me feel your hair” or “rub your skin,” but when I was 12, old ladies used to rub their bingo cards all over my Afro hair for good luck. It was all kind.
I was part of the community. I had 37 Irish dance medals. But the day I saw a black man, everything changed overnight. When I asked my mother why she didn’t tell me about Africa and black people, she said she didn’t want to confuse me and in a way I’m glad she did. I had no other culture than the one that surrounded me.
Describe how you felt about not wanting to belong.
I found customization boring. I wanted to do creative things. I’ve always made art and that creativity saved me as a kid. It helped me overcome the pain of my upbringing.
How has your creative life changed after meeting your birth mother?
After I met my birth mother, she told me that she didn’t want to keep in touch. I found a way to escape feelings of disappointment. You can’t be angry when you’re doing something nice. There is much healing in creativity.
But you were a secret painter for years?
I used art as therapy. I would paint and then throw them away. I was 38 before anyone saw my pictures.
Choose three words to describe yourself.
Cheerful, creative and ambitious.
What drives you?
The energy I happily wake up with every day. I also don’t want to accept that other people limit my worth or my work.
Best advice you got?
As an artist, I’ve been told that if you don’t like what you’ve made, you can always paint over it. Eliminate the fear of having to do it perfectly.
Best advice you give?
If you have someone in your life who makes you smile, hold them very close and don’t take them for granted. Also, forgiveness is key and understanding that sometimes good people do bad things and bad people do
sometimes do good.
At some point you were homeless. Tell us more.
I had put everything into my art and gallery and had no backup plan. I slept on friends’ couches. I had to go to an animal shelter on Amiens Street. It was a short experience, but you don’t forget it.
How did you get back on your feet?
By painting and going to Merrion Square every Sunday and hanging my pictures on the railings. I had to stay focused.
Who are your role models and why?
I admire rich artists because they have made their talent a living and have paid generously for it. That is not easy.
What inspires your pictures?
It could be deep colors representing the Donegal sky. I always try to bring energy and color to my work and I like to experiment. I’m working on a portrait exhibition that I plan to bring to New York next year.
Kevin Sharkey Gallery, Royal Hibernian Way, Dawson Street, Dublin. kevinsharkeyart.com
https://www.independent.ie/life/upfront-kevin-sharkey-on-finding-his-own-niche-and-using-art-as-therapy-41894047.html First of all: Kevin Sharkey on finding his own niche and using art as therapy