Mentioning my Mentor

170Maud.jpgMaud Has Done it Again. By Jim Ireland.

My fondest memory of working for James Ireland Design Inc. was when Jim would come downstairs, where all the junior designers sat, perch in a chair and talk to us about music, tell us stories of his youth, and opinionate about current events. (yes, I know opinionate is not a word but it fits here). He wouldn't be speaking to anyone in particular. He would sit and look at the ceiling or at a wall and

gesticulate while he talked. We sat facing our computers and listened while we worked. It was terrific. Anyone who has ever met Jim knows what a great story teller he is.

Jim hired me straight out of school. Baptism-by-fire. His "you can do it" attitude lead to me working on editorial design projects I never would have had the opportunity to work on in any other studio. He would confidently hand me a 360 page directory needing to be designed and approved and sent to the printer in 10 days knowing full well I had never designed anything over 4 pages long. He never shied away from giving the juniors massive projects. And if we screwed it up he' would never shy away from telling us we screwed it up. "What is this? – the f#@% Helen Keller School of design?" (that one was my favourite). Jim was my mentor. I learned so much in the 3 years I worked for him. I made my share of mistakes and built up thick skin. In the design industry one needs Moby Dick thick skin. So when I left Jim to get a taste of corporate design I was fully equipped to handle whatever anyone threw at me.

In these afternoon basement chats Jim would tell us of his childhood in the City of York, England, where he was taught by nuns and priests. When Mother Andrews had to punish him, "it was six of the best with a cane on my hand" Jim explained, she would tell him "I can't hit you on your drawing hand; you are going to be an artist."

His first job was for Pye Records in London where he worked for 2 years designing album covers (every graphic designer's dream job). He made no money but did design album covers for many musicians including Nina Simone. When he asked for a raise he was turfed. In London it was the height of 60's Psychedelic era but Jim preferred the American Typography and the illustrative style of PushPin Studios, of Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast. Jim applied for a  pre-paid, one-way-ticket to Canada. Cover for Nina Simone, Forbidden Fruit (1966?). Design by Jim Ireland. (Image found at

In Canada he started his career off working under editorial design master Ken Rodmell at the Canadian Magazine. Jim thought he would eventually end up in the States. "Toronto never let me down" he explained, so he never left.

A few years ago Jim tried his hand at painting. His flare for design lent itself to very geometric, graphic style. His first show Gods and Monsters brought Jim's  black humour into the foreground. Images of youth and their destiny. A young Medusa with baby snakes just starting to sprout from her head, a young Pan with the nubs of horns beginning to form and finally baby Hitler, his fate already set in motion, a small mustache tied on with a thin piece of thread.

His second was an homage to his childhood. His website explains; "One can clearly see from my work that I was raised a Roman Catholic, and the nuns, brothers and priests who taught me to recognize good from evil had a tremendous influence on my life. Eventually, in my work I rejected their propaganda and turned a tad to the dark side." The religious erotica was a hit and he sold almost every piece. I was lucky to have snagged one myself.

166Nuns.jpgLeft: Sister O'Brien: Anne It's Just A Cramp In Your Leg. Right: Sister Murphy: God What Have I Done. By Jim Ireland.

Damaged Dogs brought his audience to tears. The graphic quality of the triangle and the circle seen in a dog's post-op neck cone inspired Jim to do a series dedicated to abused dogs. "To have the face of the dog seen over the top of the cone the neck would have to be about 14 inches long. It's the absurity that makes it humorous." As he did research for this series Jim was able to fill a file with newspaper clippings that cited stories of animal cruelty. The titles of the paintings such as "They Broke Nearly Every Bone In My Body. I'll Survive. I'm A Fighter. I'll Get Them and When I Do I'll Kill Those Chicken Bastards" helps to tell the broader story.

168Dogs.jpgLeft: Snot The Dog After The Accident. Right: hey Broke Nearly Every Bone In My Body. I'll Survive. I'm A Fighter. I'll Get Them and When I Do I'll Kill Those Chicken Bastards. By Jim Ireland.

James Ireland Design Inc. was sold a couple years ago and has since been renamed Fresh Art & Design Inc. Jim is painting full time now. His daughter Beth, a good friend of mine, invited me to the family cottage in the Muskokas this summer. The day we arrived Jim was sitting in the breezeway working on a new painting – a partially finished woman in a cat mask with cat ears peered out from the canvas. Her tightly pursed lips suggested disapproval and determination.

On Friday night Jim's fourth show opened at Gallery Hittite in Yorkville. The theme of masked women was boldly advertised on the invitation with his painting of a naked female KKK member. The beautifully textured aquamarine background makes the white of the hood leap out of the frame. "The authentic KKK hood covers the entire face but I changed it to be able to show the seductive mouth of the girl." Jim explains. The painting was inspired by an unsettling portrait found on the internet of an entire family wearing the KKK uniform. Evidently there are 2 other paintings underneath the girl in the white hood. The first painting was of dog walkers in Toronto and the second was of carnival in Venice but "I just couldn't make them work" Jim explains.

172HeMadeMeDoIt.jpgHe Made Me Do It. By Jim Ireland.

On another wall hangs Jim's contemporary version of the three Graces, three women dancing in S&M leather zipper-masks.

At the very back of the gallery hangs a painting with no masked women. It is entitled "The Day I Ran Over a Pigeon on Sherbourne Street." It is kind-of a self-portrait of Jim in his car about half a second before the incident occurred. The pigeon stands boldly in the middle of the road. When asked Jim explained that pigeons always stand in the middle of the road but they always move out of the way. This one didn't. "When I looked in the rearview mirror there was a puff of feathers." This painting is extremely different from the others. It is a street scene of hot yellows and oranges and seems to be the direction Jim may be taking his next series.

174pigeon.jpgThe Day I Ran Over a Pigeon on Sherbourne Street. By Jim Ireland.

I asked Jim about his process. "I'm not fine-art trained. I'm not in the business of drawing. I can't avoid the hard edge. The proportions are off. I just do it as I do it and make it fit,"  he responded. "You don't need a psychiatrist if you paint. It's hypnotic and so exciting. I sometimes don't even remember painting it."

176Graces.jpgThe Three Graces. By Jim Ireland.