Local Faces: Jo Lawless
By Mary Dennehy
AFTER 18 years working in IT, Jo Lawless sat down with some blank canvasses and painted herself a new future.
Growing up in James Connolly Park in Clondalkin, Jo (48) was always drawn to art, with her talent nurtured in Clonburris National School and Deansrath Community College.
“I always loved art”, Jo told The Echo.
“Anything to do with art, making or creating, I was into it.”
After secondary school, Jo embarked on a one-year feeder course in advertising and was encouraged by her graphic design teacher to study art – which led Jo to the art school in Ballyfermot.
Jo spent a few years focused on building a career in art, veering towards community art.
However, Jo, who now lives in Lucan with partner Graham, daughters Erica and Eva and dog Alfie, found it difficult to make ends meet.
“I was living at home with my parents and my baby daughter Erica and was trying to save for a mortgage…but it just wasn’t happening”, Jo remembers.
Jo Lawless gave up a career in IT to pursue her great love of art
“I had to find a different line of work.
“At the time, art didn’t pay the mortgage, not in the nineties anyway.”
Jo retrained and started a career in the IT industry.
“I spent more than 18 years in IT but I was just working to pay the bills”, she said.
“I was happy to go to work everyday but it just got to a point where I thought there must be more to life.”
Following encouragement from partner Graham, Jo left IT in 2017 after nearly two decades working for various international companies.
“I had all of these blank canvasses at home and after a couple of weeks I started painting”, Jo remembers.
“I said I’d paint the canvasses, take a step back and see where I was going.
“After a few paintings I knew art was what I wanted to do.”
She added: “I got in touch with the Local Enterprise Office and the Clondalkin Partnership, which were brilliant in providing advice and encouragement [on starting a business].
“I decided I’d try and build a business [around my art] and learn some new skills, so started a part-time, evening course on digital marketing.
“I was painting at the kitchen table during the day, college in the evening and doing my homework in between.”
Jo Lawless is grateful for the support she is getting for her art and happy to have been given the chance to paint again Photos by Erica Lawless
Those early days of reflection and reconnection brought Jo to People’s Art, the exhibition space for all artists on the railings of Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green.
Remembering back to that day, Jo said: “It was 2018 and the first time I was standing up and saying, ‘I’m an artist’.
“I felt so exposed but everyone was so helpful and I sold my first piece, my most expensive piece, and it went all the way to Washington DC.”
Using acrylic and oils, Jo paints land, city and seascapes – with her work including scenes from across the capital, including the Clondalkin Paper Mills and Clondalkin Heritage Centre.
She also paints nostalgic pieces, which capture a cohesive blend of an area’s landmark features.
These pieces currently include Tallaght, Lucan and Clondalkin, with Jo hoping to focus on other areas across South Dublin County.
“I’m very nostalgic, I like things that trigger memories”, Jo said.
“I have a love for Clondalkin and love mixing the old and new in the area and painting parts of old Clondalkin and sharing that history with my daughters.”
This love of Clondalkin has led Jo into other areas, which she researches online before hopping on her bike for a tour and to get pictures.
Jo also links in with local libraries and heritage groups.
When asked how the past year has been for her as a working artist, Jo said: “I was grand for the first couple of months and then as lockdown went on I kind of started to panic a little and was asking myself, what am I going to do?
“How am I going to keep myself relevant?
“I needed to do something, my income had been knocked out for the year… there was no exhibitions, no Christmas fairs.
“I did some research into the gift market and got my art pieces wrapped around 10 mugs.
“I gave them to friends and family for Christmas presents and they absolutely loved them so I thought the mugs could be a way to adapt my business.
“When I put images of the mugs on my social media, there was great support locally.
“People were also buying the mugs for family or friends overseas who couldn’t get home [due to Covid restrictions], sending them a little bit of home.
“The amount of people who have been drawn back to their hometown because of my paintings and the mugs is very touching.”
Last month, Jo, who has moved from the kitchen table to a new art studio in her back garden, entered her third year in business.
“I’m thankful and grateful every day”, Jo said.
“I couldn’t have done this 20 years ago, and I’m so happy I’ve been given this chance…I see myself doing this for the rest of my life.
“I don’t expect [being an artist] to be wonderful for the rest of my life, and Covid has shown us that, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“I’ve always had a natural want to paint, it’s something that’s in me.
“I think for me it’s a natural way of expressing myself.
“Once I have a paintbrush in my hand, I’m inspired.”
By subscribing to The Echo you are supporting your local newspaper Click Here: Echo Online.