Books

Words and images collide in Co Down artist Eoin Lane's debut novel

Jenny Lee talks writing, painting, gardening and knitwear with Eoin Lane, whose new paperback - which is inspired by the Belfast-born painter Paul Henry - merges his love of art and writing in a fictional exploration of love and loss

FROM working with London fashion designer Vivienne Westwood to being a lead knitwear designer with outdoor clothing company Timberland and later becoming head gardener at Mount Stewart, Comber-based artist Eoin Lane has certainly found success in more than one medium of artistic expression.

A renowned oil landscape painter, whose work can be found in galleries across Ireland, including the Trinity Gallery in Dublin, the Lavelle Art Gallery in Clifden and Henry Gilmore Fine Art in Holywood, Beyond the Horizon is the 52-year-old's debut novel.

It is a lyrical and reflective portrait of an artist attempting to balance the demands of his personal life with an obsessive quest to achieve perfection in his art.

Rather than a personal reflection of his own life, Lane takes inspiration from the work of iconic Irish artist Paul Henry, who is best remembered for his post-impressionist style landscape paintings of the west of Ireland.

The novel follows artist Colin Larkin from a childhood tragedy at sea in Co Wexford, to Inishbofin Island off the Connemara coast, via England, America, Italy and India.

Gradually his past comes to life in a story filled with love and frustration, loss and betrayal, but above all the passion he has held throughout his life for the light in the sea and the sky.

It was a train journey from Belfast to Dublin that nurtured the kernel of inspiration for the story.

"It was one of those bright glinting February days," he recalls, "and as we were passing the sands at Malahide there were people out walking their dogs and running, and boats on the water.

"There was something in the perfection of that fleeting moment that stayed with me visually and fed into what I had always wanted to do, which was writing a novel about the work and life of an artist."

At the age of 17, Dublin-born Lane was one of the inaugural winners of the RTÉ Francis MacManus Short Story competition.

However, it was his talent for art which led him to Dublin's National College of Art and Design, where he specialised in knitwear design and interned with Vivienne Westwood in London during his final year.

"I was working in her design studio and sewing for her collection. It was an internship full of quirky characters and lots of late nights, but a brilliant experience," he recalls.

His talent then took him to America to work on the outdoor collection for Timberland and later to the design offices of The Wool Marketing Company in London's New Bond Street.

In his thirties, Lane took a keen interest in garden design and received a scholarship with the National Trust.

It took him to the Co Down stately home and gardens of Mount Stewart, where he was instrumental in restoring Lady Londonderry's original garden designs.

"I got to know her daughter, Lady Mary, really well and she was able to share with me her diaries with beautiful watercolour paintings of the gardens," he says.

"It sounds like a big transition for me from knitwear to horticulture but I was still very much working with colour, form, texture and shape."

It was during his time living in the stable block on the Mount Stewart estate that Lane, inspired by the landscape and winter lighting across Strangford Lough, began painting and writing again.

The turning point for his literary career came in 2016, when he was a winner at the Irish Novel Fair - with a book about a lady in her nineties who lived "in a big rambling mansion with a lot of magic realism".

Whilst he has yet to publish that book, his success earned him an agent and the motivation to complete Beyond the Horizon.

Lane's research for the novel took him to Dublin's National Gallery, as well as the former home of Paul Henry.

"I was always attracted to Henry's work, but I didn't know very much about him. One of the things that stood out to me was that in his later life he became quite ill, lost his eyesight and never painted again," explains Lane.

"For someone who has spent decades of his life as Ireland's leading landscape painter, that was very poignant.

"His best works are utterly transporting. I visited the National Gallery and sat in front of his painting – Dawn, Killary Harbour (1921), which is very pared down in terms of its monochromatic pallet and just let it speak to me."

Lane did not shy from tackling huge subjects in Beyond the Horizon, including grief, miscarriage, self-doubt and euthanasia - and drew upon his own personal experiences in exploring some of these emotions.

"My dad died when I was 17 and I saw my mother grow and cope with life as a widow to five children and I tried to draw upon what I felt during my formative years," he says.

"And obviously I was able to write from an artist's point of view - both describing techniques and getting across the inner struggle artists have. There is a struggle of belief and a struggle of means to be able to financially survive and do what they want to do.

"Just as the landscape isn't always a beautiful glittering scene and can become dark and turbulent, so too I didn't want to write a book that was simply about beautiful paintings and an idyllic life."

Drawing on his own skills, Lane also painted the cover for his novel.

"Although it's a generic depiction of where the sky meets the sea, the painting is loosely based on Ballywalter beach in the Ards Peninsula," he adds.

Beyond the Horizon is published by Blackstone Publishing and is out now. Eoin Lane will be appearing at the Bangor Aspects Festival on Sunday October 3 at 2pm in Clandeboye Courtyard. For tickets and full programme visit Aspectsfestival.com.

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Books