The Colourists

I love drawing but I am at my best when I paint, I can get completely lost in it, a kind of meditative world where there is no space other than for colour.

Many years ago when I started working as a graphic designer my partner in business would take on the drawing of posters and brochures and leave the colouring to me. It was a mutual understanding that needed no directions or discussion.

This love for colour may be the reason why I am so attracted by the work of Chagall. One aspect of Chagall’s work that fascinates me is that he didn’t seem too concerned about the accuracy of drawing contenting himself to representing houses, animals and humans with a simple, almost childish style to concentrate solely on colour. Throughout his very long and fruitful life he has been widely acknowledged as a master colorist.

Backdrop 1 for the ballet Aleko painted by Chagall in 1942.

Backdrop 1 for the ballet Aleko painted by Chagall in 1942.

Backdrop 2 for the ballet Aleko painted by Chagall in 1942.


Backdrop 3 for the ballet Aleko painted by Chagall in 1942.

When my father Tino retired he took up art to fill his time, or so he used to say, but more than likely to fulfill a hidden passion. When I visited he would proudly show me his work, small and delicate child-like images, mainly copied from postcards and books. I would always take one of his picture home with me.

After my mother Gina died, my father came to Ireland to live with us for three months and it was during that time that I realized he was rapidly slipping into senility. Alarmed I watched him endlessly pacing the sitting room and then stop suddenly to count and re-count the change in his pocket seemingly incapable of applying himself to any task of his choice.

I started to invite him to draw again, a plant or an object to copy, which he would happily do, but once finished he would just sit and stare. A wave of panic swept over me as I was trying to relate to this new person. How would he occupy himself during the long hours when I would be out working? I needed a plan.

One day I brought him with me to the weekly children’s workshop and there he sat drawing and painting content surrounded by the children who kept feeding him biscuits while conversing with him. He had no English, they had no Italian but that didn’t seem to matter one bit.

That evening at home I made simple cardboard stencils of geometrical designs and folded a handful of blank sheets to make booklets. The following morning before leaving for work I asked my father if he’d like to draw the covers using the stencils and colour in the designs. I explained that the booklets were meant for the children whom he had met the day before. He agreed and started to work immediately.

When I came home that evening I found that, not only he had filled the covers with drawings but also every single page of every single booklet colouring dozens of drawings! Stunned I complimented him on his beautiful colour combinations and he beamed with joy.

At the end of the three months when Tino went back home the stencils were in his suitcase and when they broke, due to over-usage, I made and posted him new ones, with more pleasing designs of plants, insects and animals. Over the following year this exchange became the silent link that kept us connected until the day he died.