Artist who created space for those with learning disabilities

George McCutcheon: March 5th, 1958 - October 2nd, 2015

 

George (Georgie) McCutcheon, who has died aged 57, was an early pioneer in opening the field of artistic expression to people with learning disabilities.

Beginning with an irrepressible energy and a consistent drive to create images and objects of great originality, he became a prolific artist whose example created opportunities for many others.

Born on a Tipperary farm but brought up in Sunbeam House in Bray, Co Wicklow, then the Camphill communites at Duffcarrig and Ballytobin, being born with Down syndrome was a relatively minor matter for such a forcible, gregarious and adventurous personality.

He had his own views and something to say on politics, sport, and world affairs - and a clear interest in religious experience as an enthusiastic member of the Church of Ireland.

Vitality

Always a great talker, he didn’t just talk art but made it. From an early age, he spontaneously created images and objects of great vitality. These might have been finished in a hurry but they reflected a focused observation and an unusual openness to imagery. He gathered books of art works: he had an interest in classical religious works but he also had a taste for modern imagery – Miró was a favourite – and his own work clearly showed modernist influences.

His supporters saw that he needed professional mentoring and local artists and art students encouraged and guided him as he developed a practice in drawing from life, sculptural casting, stone sculpting, stained glass and mosaic.

As the quality of McCutcheon’s work began to be recognised, he was featured in the RTÉ series In From the Margins and invited to participate in a Sculpture Society of Ireland symposium. In 1994, his work was exhibited in three cities in Germany and his potential inspired a successful application to the EU Horizon programme which ran in 1996 and 1997 as the Kilkenny Collective for Arts Talent (KCAT) project.

It was the embryonic stage of what became the KCAT Art and Study Centre, a “radically inclusive” arts facility, officially opened in 1999. This in turn received government funding and the new Kilroy Building was opened by Dorothy Kilroy and the director of the Arts Council, Mary Cloake, with the help of McCutcheon (the “father of KCAT”) in 2009.

He travelled to America and to many European countries for exhibitions and events. KCAT is now an Irish link in a worldwide network of initiatives that promote access to creative activity for people with a variety of disadvantages.

Retrospective

In recent years, the ageing process was catching up with him and it was a joy that his major retrospective in 2014 could be a celebration of his career that he could enjoy. He died peacefully at home with his loving friends Valti Rozendaal, Colum Lydon and family and the Camphill Community in Callan.