First Encounters: Joe Boske and Tom Mathews

'You could say we are brothers under the skin’

Joe Boske is an artist best-known for arts festival and theatre posters, records and CD covers, who has had numerous exhibitions in Ireland, England and Germany. He has also published two collections of poetry and produced 'Amara', a CD of his own compositions. Originally from Wolfsburg, Germany, he lives in Clifden, Connemara

I'm not quite certain when I met Tom – it would have been the mid- to late 1970s in Dublin. I most likely met him in McDaid's or Kehoe's or Grogan's, pubs where everyone seemed to know everyone. He did a daft cartoon series called Larry the Leech.

It immediately became apparent we had a similar interest in a load of things, for example, the very inventive writing of Lewis Carroll, the darkness of Groucho Marx and Frank Zappa. Immediately that struck a chord with both of us. A year or two down the line I remember meeting up with him – I moved to Galway in 1977 but used to quite frequently go to Dublin. It transpired that we had gone out with two sisters from Tipperary, he in Dublin and me in Galway. So that called for more porter.

Both of us have a penchant for that much maligned literary sub-species, the pun. I like a bad pun and I’m quite good at it meself and so is he. Tom’s a very good artist, a good draughtsman and a good graphic artist, and also a polymath of some achievement – for example, he’s a poet, he has written a novel, he’s a theatre critic, he played in a band.


We see each other infrequently because I live in Clifden and don’t go up to Dublin all that often. We meet randomly, but Tom’s always good company, always delivers himself of literary quirks and quotes. He’s good craic to be with.

I came to Ireland when I was 18, in 1969. I saw a documentary on Ireland when I was a young person and it just appealed to me. I do have an interest in language, in my own likewise. I do a bit of punning as Gaeilge too, although I should know more Irish. I like the possibilities of language, throwing it up in the air, reassembling it, seeing what it’s made of.

I would love to collaborate with Tom again. We’ve known each other for nearly 40 years now. We wouldn’t be dogging one another and there’s no great urgency on us to meet up. But we invariably bump into one another and there’s never a dull moment. He’s a handsome-looking dude, the women like him and he’s absolutely entertaining.

We have a mutual regard for one another. He’s better looking and a year or two younger, but I wouldn’t hold that against him. We haven’t changed much in 40 years: he’s gone white but essentially, in character, he hasn’t changed, he’s got better.

The Works by Joe Boske, published by Artisan House, is an illustrated collection that includes paintings, posters, album covers and book illustrations – created over his 45 years in Ireland.

Tom Mathews is a cartoonist, artist and writer who has published three collections of cartoons, written two books of poetry and a novel, and illustrated a dozen books. He has had 30 one-man shows and his paintings have been exhibited in 'Living Art' and at the RHA. Originally from Dalkey, Co Dublin, he lives in Harold's Cross

I think I met Joe in the old In Dublin magazine offices in 1975: he was doing a bit of freelance work and so was I. I don’t know if we became great pals overnight but I know that within two years we were dating two sisters, two gals from Tipperary. Both girls slipped away from us, but Joe and I saw a bit of each other then and we’ve been bumping into each other since.

Joe is, as he’ll tell you himself, 45 years a blow-in. He’s originally from Wolfsburg in Germany; now he’s more Irish than the Irish themselves. He is literally now indistinguishable from a Connemara man. Having said that, he retains something of the old savoir vivre; there is a dash of the Danube in his veins. This is nowhere more evident than in his unerring ability to select the correct drinks to accompany any meal. I remember we were in Kinvara one time and he unhesitatingly selected the correct 12 pints of cider to accompany the bag of dry roasted peanuts we were eating.

We share a lot: he’s brought out two collections of poetry, so have I. He’s a cartoonist, I’m a cartoonist. He’s a painter, I’m a painter. He has worked with his folk and trad music pals to produce a CD. I’m finishing a rock ‘n roll album. There are a lot of parallels.

In 2008 we had an exhibition of cartoons together in the Town Hall in Galway. It was called Counter Culture because we were leaning on a counter at the time. I’m best known as a cartoonist but have taken to painting, had an exhibition last year and will have a second one in April.

You could say Joe and I are brothers under the skin, although we don't see each other's skins that often. This year I've seen him twice. Joe has a great knowledge of Irish literature, he's a big Joyce man and I'm a big Joyce man. He also has better English than most native speakers. Joe's associated with the Galway Arts Festival because of his splendid posters, which dominate Naughton's Bar, my preferred local in Galway. The magical realist thing in him is very strong; he's a west of Ireland surrealist.

If we meet each other, we’re there for the day. I was in Naughton’s one afternoon and looked up at the ceiling and there is a painting of Joe. Then I went up to the front room of the bar and there he was himself. I said, there goes the evening and the night and the next day. And so it was, because that’s the way it is. When I fall into his company, I tend to stay in it.

He’s a gentleman in every sense of that word. I can’t imagine Joe doing anybody a bad turn. He’s just a big affable bear of a man.