John McGahern by Nick Miller (b.1962)

John McGahern

Date: 1998
Dimensions: 86.5 × 95.5cm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Purchased in 2000


Miller’s portraits of artists and writers, people with whom he has a creative affinity, are particularly powerful. This image of the author John McGahern (1934–2006), who lived near Miller, is one of the most successful literary portraits in recent Irish art.

Like Barrie Cooke, John McGahern, shared Miller’s devotion to life in the west of Ireland. While both painters are foreigners who chose to settle in rural Sligo, McGahern was born into a farming background in Leitrim and after years in Dublin and London, returned to the way of life that inspired much of his literature.

Miller recalls that, while sitting for this portrait, McGahern entertained him with stories about his years in London and the people he met there including Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Astonishingly, McGahern never looked at the portrait in progress and probably never saw the finished piece. He was happy to sit for Miller but feared that he wouldn’t know what to make of a likeness of himself.

Despite such claims, the process of sitting for Miller may have influenced McGahern’s 2002 novel That They May Face The Rising Sun, which includes an artist character who has come to live in the west.

Written by Riann Coulter


About the Artist

Nick Miller (b.1962)

Born 1962, London, England. Nick Miller is a leading Irish contemporary artist. He has pursued different ‘traditional’ genres of representation, including the figure, portraits, and still life, as well as landscape, adopting different modes of working in each case appropriate to his particular concerns. The resulting work has a unique intensity of vision that continues to challenge expectations of being in, seeing and painting the world. His desire to work only from direct observation led to his adapting a commercial truck, enabling him to take his “mobile studio” into the landscape. The resulting “Truckscapes” have been shown to acclaim in Ireland, Europe and the USA. Born in 1962, Miller is a member of Aosdána since 2001 and has exhibited widely in Ireland and internationally including solo exhibitions at: The New York Studio School (2008), Limerick City Gallery (2008), Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris (2007), Butler Gallery, Kilkenny Castle (2004), Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin (2003)and the Irish Museum of Modern Art Dublin (1994). In 2002 he curated the visit to Ireland of Chinese artist Chen Zhongsen including amongst other events a joint exhibition at The Model Arts and Niland Gallery, Sligo. He has lived in County Sligo since 1992.

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