The Guggi life
With his punk-rock pedigree, Guggi once found it hard to be taken seriously as a visual artist. AIDAN DUNNEvisits him in his appealingly cluttered studio at home, surrounded by family, garden – and snakes
Guggi’s first exhibition in Ireland in almost four years has just opened at the Kerlin Gallery. Not that he hasn’t been busy in the meantime. He’s had shows in New York, London, Berlin, Buenos Aires and Monaco.
A week prior to the opening, in his habitual attire of battered leather jacket, jeans and pointy-toed black boots, he sat at ease in the relative clutter of his studio. Part of the clutter was made up of work for the show, including a group of sculptural objects, several big, painted pots that have become something of a trademark.
Add his long flowing locks to his general demeanour and he looks every bit the rocker, but it aggrieves him that he is still labelled as such. “I mean, I was in the Virgin Prunes for six-and-a-half years. But that was over for me back in 1984.
“What interested me most about the Virgin Prunes were the costumes, the make-up, the performance. I was painting before that, during it and ever since.” Not that he repudiates the experience. He, Gavin Friday and Bono all gained their names and identities from that time. Guggi still loves music passionately and remains very close to Friday and Bono, a tripartite friendship that goes back a long way.
Still, he certainly has a point. With his punk-rock pedigree he found it difficult to be taken seriously as a visual artist. But he has always been very serious about it. “The earliest paintings I exhibited were landscapes. I knew they weren’t what I wanted to say. I loved oil paint, really loved it, but I knew that I had to learn the medium.”
He set about doing that and managed it with impressive speed, mapping out an artistic language that has remained consistent ever since.
His studio is a stone-built, traditional coach-house type building adjacent to the comfortable south Dublin house he and his wife, Sibylle Ungers, share with five offspring, six assorted dogs and an unspecified number of reptiles. A family interest in the latter has developed to the point where Ungers breeds reptiles and has become something of an expert at it, particularly breeding some of the thousands of species of lizards for colour.
“I like animals,” Guggi comments with a shake of his head. “But Sibylle takes it to a different level.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the extended household makes up a teeming, busy environment, with occasional pockets of quiet.
One of them is Guggi’s studio. He likes to work there into the late and early hours. “I don’t want to sound excessive, but I really don’t think an artist can afford to be away from his or her work. That thing of being able to wander back in and have a fresh look. That’s the look that counts.”