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Article about Kieran Tobin which appeared in the February 2005 issue of Galway Now

What do Art and Medicine have in common? - Kieran Tobin

Was it the hypnosis which brought success to Kieran's peaceful landscape art? Or was it the alluring temptation of escape from the demanding life of an Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon? Whichever it was, Kieran Tobin has managed to bring healing to both of his life's careers.

Twenty-three years as a prominent ENT specialist ended with a burst of surprise from his colleagues, when Kieran announced his retirement from medicine in favour of days filled with paints and pastel colours. Personal health challenges, and his late father's encouragement to have two careers in life, brought home to Kieran the realisation that he did not have any relaxing or fulfilling hobbies. For a while he tried the predictables like golf, and a return to the music which had been important to him as a youngster. Neither bug bit.

A lifelong interest in art, especially the work of eighteenth and nineteenth century American artists like Frederick Church, lead this avid reader to spend a year or so absorbing art techniques from any book he could lay his hands on. He had to answer the question "How do they do it?". Finally, Kieran picked up a paintbrush, set out a sheet of watercolour paper, and added the paint. He was hooked.

He painted scenes of the countryside he had grown to love. Being a Tipperary man originally, and used to a profusion of trees, hedges and green fields, the harshness of the Connemara landscape was unattractive to Kieran at first. His curious eye soon found the beauty in the bogs, mountains and rocks surrounding him, and the peace and tranquility he finds there now are strongly reflected in his art. He says: "I'm attracted to water, and to pathways and river courses that disappear around the corner, causing you to wonder what's around that next bend".

Feeling the need for more confidence in technique, Kieran joined a watercolour painting course in Howth, run by a well known instructor. An impressed instructor, and an equally impressed gallery owner to whom he was introduced, guided Kieran into producing twenty-three paintings for an exhibition. Six months later, seventeen of those twenty-three paintings sold during the opening night of the exhibition. So perhaps it was not the hypnosis I've yet to tell you about! It was the taste of sweet success.

A visit to an art supply shop altered the course of Kieran's art from watercolour to pastels. Whilst browsing the aisles, he came across some sample pastel sticks lying next to a sheet of paper. He idly picked up a pastel piece and started making marks on the paper. It was love at first feel. Bye bye watercolour, hello pastel.

As artists do with each other, I promised faithfully not to reveal any of Kieran's closest art technique secrets, but did you know that this gentle and unassuming doctor thoroughly beats his pictures once they are completed? There now. We were just beginning to feel comforted by the fact that he does so much research and reading before attempting the operation, whether medicinal or creative, when we learn that he gets violent at the end!

There is a reason. In all fairness, there is a reason.

Pastels are chalk-like colour sticks which leave a residue of fine powder once applied. Most of the powder granules adhere together in the right places, but there are always those few which escape. Kieran is loathe to use too much fixative spray on the painting because it alters the colours, causing them to darken and to mingle, blurring the perfect hue. Action is needed to prevent the loose grains of pastel from settling where they should not settle, usually causing unwanted marks on the mountboard of a framed painting. Hence the beating. Followed by a gentle blotting to restore balance to the art piece before it is framed.

During his hectic days as a medical specialist, Kieran became accustomed to broken nights and short sleep hours. It worried him slightly that he was not getting enough rest, so he approached a hypnotist friend who taught him how to hypnotise himself to sleep for a couple of minutes at a time. This ability is quite fascinating, because Kieran can now pop off to sleep whilst sitting up and being part of a group of people, yet still be aware of what is going on around him, so that he can wake and participate as soon as it is required of him. He does admit that here and there he has had to ask: "I wonder if you could repeat that please", but generally, he is a very successful sneak sleeper. He says: "I believe I could win the sleep Olympics!"

I digress from revealing the secrets of Kieran's techniques, which I said I would not do. Probably because there are no secrets! His enjoyment in photography developed his ability to compose his landscapes well, his gentle and balanced personality brings out the peace of the countryside he depicts, and his surgeon's precise and sure handling of his artistic tools guides him in the aesthetics of his art. It sounds so easy. Kieran tells me he has experienced some problems with finding the perfect paper.

"I struggled to find suitable paper on which to work. The ideal paper to use is very fine sandpaper, which I tried, but which took off the skin on the heel of my hand during the blending process!" he says, brandishing a beautifully healed surgeon's hand.

"I finally found a watercolour paper produced in Australia which has a rough surface coated in acrylic. The acrylic covering smoothes over the damaging edges of the particles".

Recently, Kieran was invited to exhibit in the States, in Northern Idaho and Montana. Being an avid "cowboy man" he jumped at the excuse to visit Montana, even although the agent advised him that he was unlikely to sell his work at the exhibition and that it was purely for purposes of exposure at this stage. As Kieran says, "How could I refuse a visit to Cowboy Country!" The visit turned out to be extremely successful and included an interview on TV as well as an invitation to consider producing limited print editions of at least two paintings. The American idea of limited prints, is to begin with a minimum run of one to two thousand. It would seem the BIG syndrome is not limited to Texas.

Kieran is not new to contact with the arts in the States. His son is living in San Diego, California, which has led to Kieran becoming the only international member of the San Diego Pastel Society.

To give you a taste of the healing influence Kieran brings to his art, here is an exerpt from his personal philosophy: "Paintings may bring us back in our minds to special places or trigger memories of private moments. I would wish viewers of my work to enter into the scene and derive a sense of peace and appreciation of the beauty of nature and the countryside. I hope my paintings bring a stress-free zone into the homes and lives of busy people".

You can find Kieran's work as part of the collections of the Taioseach, the National University of Ireland in Galway, the MBNA Corporate Headquarters in Ireland, and the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin, as well as Combridge Fine Art Gallery and Kennedy's Gallery in Dublin. Kenny's Art Gallery in Galway has hosted four solo exhibitions of his work. Kieran will be exhibiting at Galway's first annual art exhibition, Art in the West, in June 2005, and has been invited to exhibit at the Barbara Stanley Gallery in London.