Mary Murphy with Edmund Sullivan at Hogs Head, Shepherd's Farm, August 1994.


American artist Edmund Sullivan tells how Ireland has come to dominate his work

By Edmund Sullivan
Special to


When I completed the original painting, and brought a framed version of it back to Ireland for Pat and Mary, he exclaimed I finally "got it." With his enthusiasm spilling, I pulled him up the field to show him how much I left out and how I had to rearrange his breathtakingly lovely farm to make the painting work. He said I caught the spirit, the essence of his land, and saw immediately, with smiling agreement, the advantage of leaving so much out to satisfy the artistic merit I desired and fought so hard to achieve. It all ends in loving memory, and that's the best of it.

Reeneeraugh Village on Hogs Head, townland of Waterville on the Ring of Kerry, Pat and Mary's lawn of heaven, remains my lawn also.

I reproduced the painting as large as freight allowance dictated, so that I could share its grandeur with as many patrons as possible. I still own the original and would part with it only to the perfect soul to continue its journey into posterity.

An original painting is the artist's guts, heart, craftsmanship and personal vision of life all in one.

In August I again visited Shepherd's Farm and Mary Murphy. We shared a cup of tea, the best scones I ever ate (next to my mother's), and wonderful memories of her dear Pat. He has been dead three years, and she speaks of him as if he would be walking in the door any minute. There have been a few changes about the place, but the spirit and the essence of what we shared long ago remains.

Currently, I am painting 6"x8" jewels of Irish scenery. I don't want to do just what the scene dictated, as a continuing belief that art is not literal. Photography does that better.

Now that many years are behind me and with perhaps about 30 good years of painting before me, I like doing faster work. I call them "hugs," knowing that a hug often suffices in life. Also, it is an easy and agreeably affordable transition from a framed reproduction at $450–$595 to an original, though smaller, painting at about $750. I'd like to tell a story about the thrill of experiencing original paintings on canvas and how they affect the human heart in no other way, even providing the life-transforming experience of epiphany.

Post questions to artist Edmund Sullivan in WGT's Forum. THE WILD GEESE FORUM: Irish History -- Non-Stop, Worldwide.

I had been painting straight across America one recent summer, right to the oak-covered hills of California.

I stopped for one week in New Mexico, at Sante Fe and Taos. I love the Southwestern states. They are an extraordinary way of breaking from the green palette of Ireland to the pink, lavender, and salmon colors of the desert. These painting changes are food for the soul and are requirements to stay fresh and practiced.

After painting about four or five sketches, I walked into a gallery in Sante Fe. Within 50 feet of the door, I lost my breath, my heart pounded, and I almost fainted. I turned and made my way out and sat in recovering gasps on the front steps of the gallery. Twenty minutes passed before I reentered this spectacular ballroom of exciting painting. For you see, I had walked into the scene of the finest, personally revered artists in the West, artists I had admired for years and even some I personally knew and had painted with in years past in other trips to the West.

Edmund Sullivan painting in Sedona, Ariz., 2003.

Each masterpiece was thrilling in texture, creativity, lighting, mastery of brushwork, and color. One by one, I put them on the altar of my own heart and exalted. Some were very large and magnificently framed, others were average-sized and some were sketch-sized, like my 6x8s.

The experience of admiring an artist's work in magazine or on the screen of a website does not and cannot compare to that of viewing the original. It is the artist's guts, heart, craftsmanship and personal vision of life all in one painting. Now, I'm talking about very good paintings only. It must be a very good painting, for mediocrity cannot move the heart. You, my Irish fellows, know the difference in great Irish musicians, if that may help you. There are a lot of dull paintings. A painting in itself is not the event. It must be excellent, soul moving, heartrending, tearful perhaps.

Recently, I have gone back to doing Irish festivals. It is where you the people are, and it is a convenient arena to show many of my framed canvas prints and original oils. In effect, these festivals are galleries.

My impulse is to present more original work to my fellow Irish in affordable ways.

This year's opening season, in New York's Catskill Mountains, in East Durham, I was pleased to exhibit an original painting entitled "The Laverty Cottage." It is 18x24 inches on canvas framed in an impressionist style to about 28x34. It was painted in the studio from four separate visits of sketching on-site. This painting shows an authentic Donegal cottage, using the actual stones from the family site of the Laverty's from Donegal. The cottage is beautiful and strikes one's heart like an emotional hammer blow. To see it and walk into it is nothing short of exhilarating.

The cottage is located at Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural Center, in East Durham. The continuing dream at the Cultural Center is to keep the traditional alive by building 31 additional Irish farm dwellings and shops for visitors to relish and experience authentic Irish life as lived in recent memory.


Also on loan last summer for exhibit at the center's Weldon House were three epic-sized original oil paintings of mine. They are "The Mighty Cliffs of Moher" (40"x60"), "Skellig Michael Rocks Off the Great Blaskets" (40"x60") and "This is Ireland" (40"x60").

My impulse is to present more original work to my fellow Irish in affordable ways. Smaller paintings will allow more of you to come to know exquisite work. Though small, the emotional impact is the same, if not necessarily the decorating aspect. Remember, art is about soul, not decorating. If I'm thrilled doing it, my hope is you'd be thrilled, one tiny step removed from that personal experience but no less. In this process, something I believe akin to giving love, we are not diminished by the experience but broadened by its extension.

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to mentor a young, fledgling artist from Belfast, named Stephen Madden. Stephen is participating in Project Children's intern program. Tom Kennedy, who heads the Westchester (N.Y.) Chapter of Project Children, had reached out to me about this venture. I brought Stephen to my former art-school in Manhattan, The Art Students League. It is the best art school in America, with Winslow Homer, William M. Chase, Sargent, and countless other famous artists of our American past having studied there.

Belfast artist Stephen Madden.

Stephen studied at the League during the summer. We also spent a wonderful day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Stephen is passionate about sculpture and was thrilled with all the exhibits, especially that of his favorite, Rodan. I was very impressed with this fine young man. He has the artist's soul and is also very aware of the journey ahead of him. I have a new friend in this fellow artist and look forward to observing the progress of his talent.

Project Children, by the way, is a remarkable organization, run solely by volunteers. Children from Northern Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant, come to the United States for six weeks in the summer. Host families welcome them into their homes. I am proud and honored to have participated in Stephen's internship. It is my hope that he become merely the first of many other young Irish artists who participate. The idea thrills me.

To finish, I'll leave you with this: I want to be found dead at my easel at 95 with a paintbrush in my hand, with the best idea I ever had, at peace with my fellow man, a loving kiss on my lips. WGT


Edmund Sullivan, Popular Painter of Irish Landscapes, Dies at 72

This page was produced by Joseph E. Gannon, and edited by Gerry Regan.

Copyright © 2012 GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to

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