Every artist has their own journey to follow, their own time to blossom and right now it is Fran McCann’s time. Belfast born Fran moved to Gort in Co Galway over twenty years ago with his wife Mary and their children. Establishing roots in the local community they are now surrounded by grandchildren in a very tranquil setting outside of the village. Fran was born in Belfast in 1945 and grew up in a large working class family, all of whom, in some way or other, were naturally talented artists or musicians. But, of course, at the time, being an artist wasn’t naturally synonymous with earning a living, leading Fran to learn his trade as a bricklayer.
Fran, at the time, assumed all families were the same, and to this day can remember his first painting. He was in primary school aged five years of age, drawing Saint George killing the Dragon, “with dirty old crayons that you had to scrape to get the colour out and auld silly old newsprint paper, which wouldn’t take the colour”, making him mad because he wanted to get brilliant colours, but it never worked. That particular painting went on to hang in the corridor of his primary school for over thirty years. Ironically, foreshadowing the career he is forging today.
Even though Fran was to take the more pragmatic career path he never lost contact with the artist within him, a fortuitous meeting in the corridors of the Tec in Belfast would lead Fran to study under the famous Northern Irish artist John Luke for three years. Fran remembers the day vividly; not just because of the meeting with John Luke but because, as he left the building, the news on the street was that John F Kennedy had just been shot dead.
Studying life drawing with John Luke not only influenced Fran as an artist but also as a teacher, “he explained things to me and I worked on it. He didn’t repeat it, he just said it once and that was it, it was up to you to improve on it”.
As Fran tells me, “you can’t teach the stars to sparkle, it’s in them, you can’t teach what they have, you can teach them the trade and techniques, you can draw art out of people, but you can’t really teach art”.
Fran’s journey from his early beginnings in Belfast to being an internationally recognised artist today has been a road long trodden, which has included, working on building sites, in commercial art and finally about seven years ago establishing his own art school in Gort. Since then the school has gone from strength to strength with Fran prolifically producing work, accumulating with his first solo show being held in The Kenny Art Gallery, Galway in 2005.
Normally an artist would have a few years wait to get their first solo show there, but in Fran’s case, with students from his art college and the main art colleges talking about his paintings’ ‘energy’ and ‘passion’. It wasn’t long before Tom Kenny recognised that Fran was going to be one of the major artist living in the West of Ireland and booked him in.
Fran has just recently exhibited a much larger body of work, again at Kenny’s Art Gallery, in January of this year, which sold way beyond expectation, further establishing Fran as a force to be reckoned with, in the field of art. Mr Tom Kenny, the gallery owner speaks enthusiastically about Fran, “you would recognise his work instantly. He is only going to go up the ladder; he is fearless when it comes to painting. Fran’s a man full of potential and is going to have a major career in front of him. He’s painting because he loves it; it’s a passion; it’s not something he does on a Tuesday morning or a Friday afternoon. It is something that he is driven to do, painting a subject he loves, I’m sure that when he was painting this show there were all kinds of Smokey Jazz going on in the background; it’s very evident from his images, they literally jump off the wall”.
Since that initial show Fran has exhibited in Italy, Australia, Dublin, Belfast and has been conferred with the title of Professor from Accademia Del Verbano in Italy. Fran now splits his time between his school, which he runs three days a week and his painting.
Not only is Fran a talented artist, he is also a gifted musician, playing the tenor and soprano sax as well as the guitar and Mandolin. Music and art freely intertwine in Fran’s work, as is evident from his paintings, where fluid notes of paint dance on his canvas creating his own individual style.
Jazz legends, such as Myles Davis, John Coultrane, Barney Kastle and Kenny Burrell have had a big influence on him, as have Pink Floyd, The Chieftains, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Ray Charles and especially Van Morrison. Their music flows through Fran’s contact with the canvas and is born again into an energetic interpretation of colour and movement.
Fran’s journey from childhood in Belfast to successful artist is an inspiration to us all, if we continue to believe, maybe dreams can come true, no matter what stage of life we are at. But of course the last words will have to be Fran’s, “because I’d been in the building sites for so long and I’d been at the commercial art for so long, I started to forget about art, it just wasn’t involved in my life, so when I started teaching in Galway it clicked on me and it opened everything up again. I couldn’t live without art, I was living a false life; it just wasn’t me at all. When I started the school, I started to paint again and to realise this is the reason why I was born, I was born to paint and to be creative. And that’s what I do now”.
Artistic Journey published NI Homes & Lifestyle
Words & images by Tina O Rourke