Hard-living ex-Pogues frontman finds success as an artist | Shane McGowan
Shane MacGowan is puzzled and amazed by the positive response to his first show in London. “I was blown away by it all,” he told the Observer.
His name is synonymous with a tough life, but this month the renowned former Pogues frontman revealed a hidden talent for drawing. Today the 64-year-old learned that his gallery in Knightsbridge has sold almost all of the works on display and extended the exhibition.
MacGowan may be new to the art world, but when it came to celebrating the gallery’s opening, the singer was right back home. “It was a laugh there [in London], but it was hard to get the simpler things, like a decent breakfast. I met a lot of people I hadn’t seen for a long time. A night out on the town with Kate Moss ended late, despite MacGowan’s wheelchair and failing health, says his wife, writer Victoria Mary Clarke. “Shane can get away with being hostile, but he really enjoyed it. Normally he doesn’t like being told he’s good at things, but he’s starting to like the idea that his art is good.
Back in his flat in Ireland, MacGowan is candid about the violence that surrounded him as a child and its place in his art. His visual influences, he says, include Caravaggio and the Impressionist school, but he considers himself “a realist who can’t draw very well.” “I really am a primitive artist. I drew them for fun in boring trips on pieces of paper and sick bags and such. I guess I’m just creative. People have told me that I am. In an unusually expansive mood, MacGowan also reveals his delight at finally approaching completion of an album with Irish band Cronin.
The drawings sold out quickly during the first days of her Andipa gallery show, including one by Grace Jones bought by Moss, according to Clarke: “Kate always has really cool art in her house, so I was very happy that she loved him.” she says. “And the Fontaines DC band bought the very loud, almost aggressive portrayal of Shane de Bono, so they were all Irish bands together.” Visitors to the show, The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of Gold, will find that many images have already disappeared. “We didn’t make any impressions, so only one person can have a play. Shane doesn’t like to repeat himself.
Her husband’s studio discipline, Clarke says, is non-existent. “He has no studio and no discipline. He works in watercolor and acrylic, and ink mainly, but also with found materials, like my lipstick. It varies, like his moods.
The couple suddenly has a supply problem. Most of his drawings were made in the 80s while MacGowan was travelling, and although they now cost between £2,000 and £28,000, they are running out.
“He was drawing anywhere then,” Clarke explains. “On a restaurant menu, a hotel room-service card, or my receipts and bank statements. Even the walls, but not once on a canvas.
Born on Christmas Day 1957 in Kent, MacGowan is best known as the unruly elf who does such dark duos on Fairytale of New York. He’s now, reluctantly, a seasonal fixture, like Mariah Carey in her “Sexy Santa” costume. But he is also recognized as a great songwriter, as well as the creator of powerful covers of traditional Irish ballads. With the Pogues, he made five influential albums which, along with his drunken bustle, established him as a legend in the music industry. “I am not, however, a mythical creature,” he says. “I really am a human being. I am a primate. I am an animal and an animal has a soul. I believe we all have great souls. Everyone on this planet.
MacGowan began drawing as a toddler – and drinking came soon after, he says. The first sketches were matches of hurling, the vigorous Irish sport which is compared to hockey: “Hurling is an incredibly skilled game and lots of my family members were throwers, in addition to being farmers or working on the routes in Ireland and England. It’s a martial art, really.
The singer believes he had a good childhood “despite the violence”. Irish political factions fought around him as he grew up, but it was gang violence he saw first hand: “My family knew gang members in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Back in Dublin, my dad held their coats for them. They wore brass knuckles and were not in fair combat. His father and pregnant mother came to Britain after getting married in Tipperary and traveled to Kent, where an aunt, his father’s older sister, “represented us”.
A short spell at London’s notorious Westminster School, where Clarke says she was bullied, was followed by a period of confinement for mental health issues. Both periods, Clarke thinks, left their scars. More recently, MacGowan fell into what she describes as a depressive “free fall” after a fall that left him immobilized. Shortly after, the sudden death of his mother: “He thought he would continue to take risks and nothing would get to him. He didn’t want to talk or see people and that went on for years.
A slow return to music with Cronin, a family band from Mullingar, brought him back to life. The drawings, Clarke suggests, are further proof of her constant need to express herself artistically: “It goes together. When you let creativity out, it’s an unstoppable force.
Many of the cartoons are violent, as MacGowan’s friend Johnny Depp notes in the expensive book that accompanies the show and is for sale on the musician’s website. Others are sexually explicit in an innocent and resourceful way. Several are inspired by the Catholic imagery of his youth, including a sketch of a tortured Saint Catherine, spinning on her burning wheel.
Religious motives, MacGowan says, are ingrained in his mind: “I’m sick of going to mass now, but I’m going to communion. I don’t feel the need to confess my sins.
He may have drawn compulsively once, but it’s the music that haunts him now, with tunes constantly forming in his head: “I’m still writing songs. It’s a lot more effort to draw. I’m now in the final stages of recording the album with a new band and we have amazing chemistry.