John Muaz Kingerlee: I always hope that my paintings will stand up for me on the yavmiddin

I first saw the name John Muaz Kingerlee in an article about Abdalqadir Sufi. I learned that he was a world-renowned painter who created many valuable works. Abdalqadir Sufi was surrounded by many intellectuals, academics, musicians but I was intrigued to meet a painter. Also, in Turkish sources I was surprised that there was nothing about Kingerlee. John Muaz Kingerlee, USA and exhibited his works in leading art galleries, especially in Europe. Art critically acclaimed. Many documentaries and prestigious books have been published about him. Kingerlee, 87 years old, continues to produce in his home.

First of all, let’s start by getting to know you. Your surname is very interesting Kingerlee. Why did you move to West Cork?

My father told me that the name KINGERLEE came from Oxfordshire stonemasons. Many years ago, on a visit to Oxford a van passed by with. T.H. KINGERLEE Builders written on the side. A cousin told me that far away and long ago we were descended from gypsies. My mothers’ name was Hogan, a very Irish name, perhaps They left Ireland during the Famine.

I was an only child and very wild. Life for Mum and Dad was much easier when I was sent to boarding school. For seven years I was educated by Irish Catholic Priests of the Marist Order. There I was introduced to ULYSSES and FINNEGANS WAKE by JAMES JOYCE by my English teacher as well as the French language and French literature.

On leaving school I found myself in Soho, London, meeting people like Quentin Crisp, Ironfoot Jack, Ray Cortenze, Peter Everett and Colin Wilson. Soho is in central London . Artists, writers, misfits and criminals gathered there from the whole of England and further afield. One could call it a national bohemia . The war had only ended ten years previously. By 1982 all the children had left home and we were free to move wherever we wished. In West Cork we found a landscape we loved and in which we felt at home, a people with a splendid sense of humour and a wisdom coming from a hard history. Old Ireland had not entirely vanished.

On our first visit to Ireland we were walking and hitch hiking. One day in the Kerry mountains a car stopped and a large man got out and said “ Yez can’t get in”. As we squeezed in I noticed a rock like atmosphere. “Oh lord” I thought what have I got her into, IRA gunmen?” These men were Saints not Sinners. They had spoken out on behalf of their poor parishioners in Chile and The Philippines. As a result they were looking down the barrel of a gun held by the powerful. “Sure a good shepherd has to look after his sheep”, said one of them. What a privilege it was to have met such brave men. 

How did you get into painting? How was your understanding of painting shaped? How do you define your own painting?

Culture in my home as a child was very sparse, there were few books but there was a radio. As a result I was continually out of doors because that was where the interest and excitement was.

As a lad I liked to be with painters, to watch them work and listen to what they had to say. In London (early days of our marriage) my wife and I would babysit for the painter Martin Bradley and his wife. Sometimes I would watch him work, this became a great inspiration. At this time I thought I was a writer.

In1961 I started to paint and discovered that this was what I needed to do and so started rising at 5am to paint for 2 or 3 hours before going to work in a market garden.

Here in Warwickshire we felt at the heart of England, around us were mighty trees and William Shakespeares’ birthplace was nearby.From Warwickshire we moved to Cornwall, traditionally, in England, the painters county. Here I was able to spend most of my time painting.When I had enough work I would roll up the canvases and hitch hike up to London to sell them.all these works were done in acrylic paints.

Twenty years we lived in Cornwall and for the last 5 years we had a pottery.

Well, I don’t “define my own painting”. I have no definition of my own painting.

Perhaps this small poem is an approach to an answer to that question.

        Across the meadows of that century

         the trains speed on

          And did they know that that were going to die

          Those children who drew butterflies

           Upon the carriage walls

            In which the windows were so high and small?

I like to step aside and let paintings speak for themselves. It was in West Cork that I began to mix my own paints, the basis of which is a sack of titanium white pigment. This enables one to use the paint generously especially with the palette knife.

How did you become a Muslim and how did you meet Shaykh Abdalqadir Sufi? Did you talk to him about painting? What did you talk about?

In the mid 70s I was living in a squat in Bristol Gardens, London. Amongst the squatters was a community of young Muslims, English and American. They turned out to be Sufis -The Murabitun- Shaykh Abdalqadir was Mukadom of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al -Habib in Meknes. These young people were consistently high and clean, they did not use drugs unlike most of the other squatters around them.

One day , doing business in the Sufis’ shop, moving the pots and the coins around 

on the counter, I glimpsed , in the eye of the young man, an ecstatic joy that threatened to overwhelm his reason and which he managed to hold in check.This made a deep impression upon me, everyone else I knew who was going mad was doing so from darkness,sadness and frustration and certainly not from joy. Later I was invited to lunch and there I met Shaykh Abdalqadir from whom I received a total rejection- A devestating blow.

The years went by and the only move I could make was to become Muslim. 

So my first meeting with the Shaykh was a complete rejection , and then, years later, my final memory of the Shaykh was of him taking my hand and drawing me into the centre of the sacred dance tune hadra. I was asked whether I wished to choose a name or to be given one. Shaykh Abdalhaq Bewley gave me the name of Mu’adh, he said it just came to him. I am very happy with this name, it has a great truth for me.

As a Muslim I only had one conversation with the Shaykh.I remember him saying “I know my Yeats”. We never spoke about painting.

After becoming a Muslim, there are radical changes in people’s lives. Some completely abandon what they were doing. Some try new syntheses. What has changed in your painting?

After becoming Muslim I moved away from figurative painting towards colour, texture, balance. Like so many converts I alienated most of my friends by constantly talking about Islam and the controlling and destructive power of usury. Recognising the destructive power of usury was like a bomb exploding in my head. I am 87 now and nowadays I try to be very careful in what I say.

You have produced many works throughout your life, you have opened exhibitions in many countries. You have been in contact with critics and art galleries. Can you talk about what you have experienced in this background?

By and large, the Art World as we have it now, is something to be avoided.

I remember finding good company in Bill Zimmer, the art critic from New York.Like me, Bill loved graffiti. I remember him saying that he hoped to re-read Kiplings’ PUCK OF POOKS HILL. ROBERT HUGHS once said “ Always remember: The Art World is the enemy of art.” good advice.

You have witnessed many transformations in the world. Today, like everything else, art has become digitalised. In addition to digitalisation, everything that was marginal in the past has now become mainstream. How do you see the future of art? What are your recommendations for artists?

Who knows. Many years ago I met a poor man in Portugal, no papers and on the run, a pennyless Moroccan. After chatting a while he pulled the bed to one side and showed me the picture he was working on,on the wallpaper. I imagine that meaningful art is going to come from this sort of situation.

Digital Art. I don’t even know what that means. Money laundering, the high prices in the big Auction Houses are non of my business. I just want to paint Good pictures.

Several years ago, in his Gallery in Dublin, Hugh Charlton told me a lady, a friend of his , that very morning , had bought a painting of mine “The Well” . She had intended to leave the city and go into the countryside to commit suicide as she had discovered that her husband was being unfaithful to her. Instead she had bought my painting and gone back home, That, I feel was very successful painting. Alhamdulillah. I always hope that my paintings will stand up for me on the yaumiddin.

My recommendation to new artists is” Keep your head down and work hard, whatever the critics say ”A young business man told me that the painting of mine he had bought made him feel happy every time he looked at it.

When I look at your paintings, I feel the air of Ireland, the sea and the storm. Perhaps the poetry and authorship you have given up expresses itself not in words but in paints. 

That you should see the air of Ireland, the sea and the storm makes me happy -cameras can do one job and painting another-. As a comment on my work. I love old walls and the way they come into being. You say “Perhaps the poetry and authorship you have given up expresses itself not in words but in paints.”  I hope you are right and I think you are right.

Leave A Comment

E-posta adresiniz yayınlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir