Anyone who has spent time in the company of cows can attest to their curiosity, and it was this very trait that captivated artist, Eoin O’Connor.
When it comes to painting cows, he explained, he tries to “get a bit of character and fun out of them”.
“You know the way cows are very nosy and they come up to you. I try and get the essence of that out of them,” he told Agriland.
O’Connor, who lives in rural Co. Wicklow, has been painting cows in his distinctive colourful style for around 15 years.
“I just initially started painting cows in the field. There was nothing funny or humorous about it. They sold pretty quick.
“So I could have continued just doing that. But then I started trying to make them have more character and interact with the viewer,” he said.
The artwork has struck a chord with both urban and rural dwellers alike.
For paintings bought as presents for special occasions, such as milestone birthdays, O’Connor has even been requested to add the recipient’s herd number onto the tag.
An artist’s journey
When he was young, O’Connor’s family relocated from Dublin to Cork as his father had changed jobs.
He later returned to the capital to attend Dublin Institute of Technology (now the Technological University of Dublin) to study architecture.
However, it soon became apparent, much to his parents’ concern, that his passion lay in painting.
“They weren’t that happy,” he recalled.
“When I left school, which was the very late 80s, the economy in Ireland was pretty crap.
“I should have gone to art college, but I was pragmatic enough to think that I should get a profession rather than be an artist because I didn’t think I’d make a living,” he said.
“When I did architecture, I loved it at the start but as the years went by, I began to dislike it.
“I could see other people loving it and I said to myself, ‘if I work at it, and I don’t like it, and I’m working with people that love it, I won’t be a great architect’.
“So I learned from them and said, ‘I need to do what I love doing, which is painting’, so I just started painting,” he explained.
But during the initial years of his career, he was “making enough just for survival”, he admitted.
“Everybody thought I was mad. It was a very tough time. I wasn’t sure if I could make a career of it. When I told people I was painting and being an artist, I could see them raising their eyes up to heaven,” he said.
“I was so determined to make a living. I told my parents that I would make as much money as any of my three brothers.
“I could understand my parents’ point of view. I have kids myself. I’d be very worried if one of my kids decided they were going to be a musician, or something.
“But the truth is you only live once and you should follow what you love.”
All the colours
So, how would the artist describe his work?
“I use really bright colours. If I’m doing landscape, I’d have red fields, pink fields, blue fields, all different colours. When you look at it, it makes sense. But when you describe it, verbally, it kind of sounds a bit ridiculous.
“I like to play with not just colour but light, shade, and perspective. So I might warp them a little bit, only slightly. I just try to put my own slant on things,” the artist said.
When first approached by Tipperary Crystal four years ago with a proposal to use his colourful cow paintings on a range of homewares, O’Connor initially refused.
“I had two small galleries myself [in Gorey and Kinsale] and I was a little bit afraid of over exposure, to be honest,” he explained.
However, after mulling it over, he decided to allow his images of cows and dogs to appear on the collection, which includes: plates; bowls; vases; towels; notebooks; socks; coasters; and cushions.
“I said to myself that the homewares are not my paintings and they’re not my prints. They’re really like business cards for me. So they wouldn’t really affect me that much.
“Tipperary [Crystal] didn’t really know if they’d sell or not but now they are their top-selling item. They sell in over 500 shops. They get an order of them and they run out very quickly.
“It’s amazing. I never foresaw that they would sell that well,” he said.
Despite his success, O’Connor – who spends much of his time in his studio – said he is still in disbelief when he goes into shops and sees his name over the products.
“It’s amazing, but it doesn’t feel like me at all. It’s hard to get your head around to be honest.”
Whether it is down to the colourful cows, social media, or the years of hard work, the stars are certainly aligning for O’Connor, who is currently focusing on painting landscapes.
And these are proving to be just as popular as all his other creations.
“I actually have no paintings [left] because I sold all of them in April,” he said.
“It’s every artist’s dream – what I dreamt of for years – but when it happens, it’s actually quite stressful because you have nothing.”
The artist visits Kerry twice a year – Kenmare every Christmas and Derrynane for two weeks each summer. But even while on holidays, the lure of the canvas is always there.
“I’m delighted to be away, initially, and then I just have to paint. I’d be gagging to come back and paint.
“I love painting more now. But I I’m always trying to get better. You are probably always trying to do the best painting you ever can,” he said.
“I’m my own worst critic so if I have a painting and I am delighted with it, then a couple of weeks later I am thinking what changes I could make,” O’Connor said.