Jonathan Wade

(02/10/1941 - 22/01/1973)

Today marks the anniversary of the tragic death of Jonathan Wade (1941-1973), described as possibly the finest Irish visual artist of the last century. Following a visit to see his mother in Walkinstown, John was on his way home to Clondalkin when he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident on the Monastery Road in the early hours of 22nd of January 1973. He was only 31.

Owing to his powerful and heartfelt urban landscapes, at the time of his death, John was fast on his way to becoming recognised as a painter of great stature and skill, both in Ireland and internationally. John Wade (known as Jonathan after 1962) possessed extraordinary artistic prowess, excelling in both imaginative concepts and skillful execution. He had no interest in painting emotive, picturesque scenes, but rather sought to portray an overwhelming sense of industrial catastrophe by painting large images of decaying and rusted buildings and machinery. His interest in Marxism and left-wing politics had a profound impact on his creative output.

Born on Thomas Street in 1941, John was the eldest son of Thomas and Sarah Wade. The family moved from Thomas Street to Basin Lane around 1943 and then on to Walkinstown Avenue in 1952. Since leaving school at the age of thirteen, John tried his hand at a variety of jobs – making sausage casings in an abattoir, sign writing, and woodwork. In his later career, John also taught art at Blackrock College and Clondalkin Vocational School.

It was while living in Walkinstown in his teenage years that John began to develop a passion for painting, and this is where he painted many of his earliest works. Although art was his main passion in life, he did not have the financial means to pursue this full-time, so he made the decision to enrol in the National College of Art and Design for part-time evening classes. It was here that he learned techniques such as silk screening and etching. In addition to painting, John was also an accomplished woodturner at the Irish Craftwork Studios of Fergus O’Farrell Ltd. on Duke Street, where he produced little wooden figures of ancient Irish warriors and monks. His skill of woodturning brought about his production of small rosewood pendants featuring miniature oil paintings. These he sold to family and friends. Early in his career, John used the pseudonym ‘Lucas Kingsley’ when painting scenic woodland and lake paintings to make a quick buck. He referred to these as ‘pot-boilers’. This was not the type of art he desired to produce, however.

John met his wife in 1959 at the Mayfair Dancehall in Clondalkin. The pair married in 1962 and moved to London for a brief period afterward. While in London, John worked in an oil company depot, and painted in his spare time. He sold his work on Green Park railings. The couple returned home after six months and moved to Clondalkin, where John used his shed as an art studio.

John’s first solo exhibition was held in the Fergus O’ Farrell studios in 1966, followed by the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1968. His largest and most important solo exhibition was held in the Project Arts Centre on Abbey Street in 1970, with a collection of thirty-seven paintings on show. At this point in his life, John had been spending time in Dublin’s dockyards, submerging himself in the landscape of the city. This led to the creation of a series of paintings depicting landscapes of rusted metal junk – a crumbling, industrial world.

Other notable exhibitions included: The Oireachtas Exhibition (1972), the Davis Gallery (1972), Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery (1973), the Museum of Modern Art in Paris (1973) and Trinity College Dublin Retrospective Exhibition (1975).

John was fast becoming recognised as being one of the most formidable artists of his generation and was winner of the Waterford Glass Prize for Landscape Painting in 1972 for his painting ‘Urban Landscape II’. This work was later purchased by the Arts Council. A review from The Irish Times described his paintings as having ‘a ferocity which, if they can attain splendour as well, would rise to the quality of Goya…’

Following his death, the Project Arts Centre held a Memorial Exhibition to raise money for his wife and two children. Over £5,000 worth of paintings and sculpture were donated from artists across Ireland and France.

Jonathan’s substantial body of work reflected a depth of exploration and development typically seen in artists with much lengthier careers. Regrettably, fate cut short the trajectory of his inquisitive mind, but the enduring legacy of his spirit is still visible through his unique and evocative art.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Irisih artist who lived most of his life on Walkinstown Avenue