Charlie Whisker in Irish Independent March 2009


Charlie Whisker is on cloud nine. He has just become a dad to Lady Ruby Mae Whisker and a recent exhibition in the Merrion Hotel, 'Memory and Promise' was a huge hit. As he sits in his Bray home he says life is good but don't get him started on the rubbish and litter in Bray, rubbish so bad he is considering leaving his elegant three-storey house on Sidmonton Road for the cleaner streets of Sandyford or Killiney.

Hailing from Bangor, Co. Down Charlie (59) came to Bray by circuitous route and while art was always his passion it was not always art in the traditional sense that put food on the table.

He veered away from painting and teaching when he was asked to make a music video for Bob

Growing up in Bangor, a northern version of Bray according to Charlie, he said he had an idyllic childhood but 'the Troubles came and destroyed it (the North)'.

The recent return to violence, however, has not shocked him. 'I think that certain representatives in the government want to keep it going on in the background. I am not shocked by the return to violence but I am appalled by it. It is an appalling thing to do, to kill a policeman, someone that is there for the community, working for the good of the community.'

His experiences in the North, including witnessing the shooting of one of his students, Michael Browne and sitting with the 16 year old until he died from his injuries waiting for help to arrive, have influenced his style of painting.

'Having had an idyllic childhood and then seen the Troubles I tend to litter my paintings with sweet and sour images, tragic and joyful. I like to do it in a way that is forensic so that people can put it together in their heads. So that it involves the viewers.'

The birth of Lady Ruby Mae, Ruby Mae for short, has also subtly altered the direction of his paintings. 'The joyous arrival of another child has influenced me. I start thinking of the toys she will have, the toys I had as a young child and things like ladybirds are creeping into my paintings.'

It was teaching art in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) he was contacted by Windmill Lane Studio in Dublin who wanted someone with visual skills to make a music video and basically poached him from NCAD.

The move snowballed and he moved to America where he enjoyed an amazing ten years making music videos for the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. To this day many die hard Dylan fans reckon that Series of Dreams, the first video Whisker did for him, is Dylan's best.

'I was a great Dylan fan and to meet him and work for him was amazing and I really enjoyed it. I also did a lot of work for Bruce Springsteen. He was very approachable and great fun.'

Life in America was 'extremely joyous' where the Whiskers met a lot of musicians and actors.

'People were very welcoming, particularly in California. They included you and made you feel welcome. Initially I felt nervous. It was top end work and I also made a series of musical documentaries myself but it was a case of people like Dylan and Springsteen, having seen our showreels, asking us to make their videos.'

The move to America may perhaps have come about through other means had an opportunity with NASDAQ not presented itself after the first Dylan video was produced in Dublin.

On seeing the video they offered him a four year contract making commercials and the Whiskers moved en masse to America.

'I was very excited. I wanted the kids to go to America and to go to school there. I didn't want them to be taught religion here and I wanted a system like America and I also liked the idea of them growing up in a warm open climate and broadening their experiences.'

The dot com explosion however in the early noughties led to a different style of video and the Whiskers moved back to IreDylan in Dublin's Windmill Studios and this took him to America where he settled in Los Angeles with his wife Mairead and two daughters India and Domino.

However a return to Dublin was followed by the breakup of his marriage and it was some time before he met his current partner, author Julia Kelly, at the artist retreat of Annaghmakerrig in Co. Monaghan.

Now back painting Charlie loves the aspects of nature that Bray and Wicklow turn up.

'I never know what I am painting. I start with an abstract image and from that comes an idea and I develop it. I never sit down with a painting in mind. I do react with nature and I walk every day with our two dogs particularly down by the sea and along the coast.' land. 'It was hell moving back. 9/11 had just happened and we sold our house in Santa Monica but when we converted the money from the sale we lost a lot of money on the dollar. When we came back a rundown house in Dun Laoighaire was more expensive than a house in Beverly Hills! We didn't know whether we would be able to fit back in but thankfully we were both able to re-establish ourselves.' Living in Bray with Julia, new baby Ruby Mae and the couple's two rescue dogs, Miss Mouse and Blue, Charlie seems very much at home but Bray's reputation as one of the dirtiest towns in Ireland, gets him hot under the collar.

'Bray was beautiful; it was the Brighton of Ireland. But it is gone very dirty and neglected. The pier is falling apart. I loved Bray as a child and I loved moving here but I am distraught to see the way that people are abusing it. There is a stunning natural beauty to Bray but humans are intent on littering it. We are thinking of getting out. I just can't deal with the rubbish and filth. I find it abhorrent.'

His latest exhibition proved a big hit with many painting selling on opening night. 'With these times in mind it went very very well. There is definitely a drop in spending and had I known last year I would have dome some smaller pictures. But I had a very good response on the night and sold well.' The couple's house is very much an artist one with Charlie working on the top floor with music blaring while Julia works down stairs in silence. However it works well although the arrival of Ruby Mae may have an impact on working arrangements as time progresses as the couple figure out a schedule that suits them both and their daughter once work resumes in the household.