Healy is an artist, engraver, jeweller, musician, poet and stand up comedian. Let’s first touch on his time spent on comedic pursuits. When he lived in San Francisco he did a course called how to be a stand up comedian and upon graduation he made it in to Hank Hyenas Comedy All Stars. He laughs at the zany memories of it all, ‘I still have the how to be a comedian ring binder,’ he adds sardonically.
Let There Be Music
He sits at his work station above Drury Street in Dublin. Beside him are his tools which he has been collecting for years, they look like a huge bouquet of flowers, each with a bright handle. His hat and beard stirs up images of Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, he smiles big and laughs heartily. There is also a gentle delicateness to him, it’s comparable to a shy thoughtful child. It’s contrasts that seem to inspire and define him.
He grew up in Templeogue. His father worked as a printer and did taxidermy in his spare time, his mother worked in a newsagents. It was the comics that she brought home from work that started it all. In particular the short lived English comic Scream, Simon Furman creator of Transformers used to write for it. It was horror themed and he loved it, he was mesmerised by the illustrations. His grandfather’s brother was Michael Healy, the famed reclusive stained glass artist. As a child he was unaware of his genetic predisposition towards art it was music that captivated him first, ‘and fire. I loved lighting fires,’ he chuckles. Both his parents are also musical. Healy is a trained classical guitarist.
His favourite comedian is Steve Martin and it’s apt that Martin says the following in his autobiography entitled Born Standing Up, ‘I just believe that the interesting time in a career is the pre-success, what shaped things, how did you get to this point?’
Healy did not continue down the comedic path, however he has always been intrigued by dark humour and it continues to encapsulate his work. Great humour is always on the knife age of hysterical bliss and skin-crawling despair and it’s that balance that Healy is naturally drawn to.
‘Music was my first love.’ In the 1980’s he formed a band with his childhood friends that went through a few name changes; Vocal Disorder, The Daisy Thorns and their current name The Dirty Pictures. His voice on records like The Motivational Effect Of Hope exhibits a wonderful juxtaposition of warmth and brightness mixed with a graveled weariness of a crooner that’s seen it all before but is still fascinated.
With hindsight he finds it amusing that he never took art or metal work in school even though they were available to him, he was absolutely ‘consumed with music.’ After school he became a draughtsman and today the idea of doing that job jars with him. ‘I started it before computer aided design (CAD) came in so I guess I was drawn to the fact that you had to work with a pen on velour but eventually CAD got introduced and I became a CAD monkey.’
He moved to The States when he was twenty-four but he never wanted to go, his friend applied for a visa for him and he got it, so he decided to just go with the flow. ‘I lived in America for twelve years. The only drive was to have an adventure and to continue to make music.’ He and the two other bandmates got a job in a youth hostel located in Fort Mason, San Francisco. They stayed in a military house on it’s grounds, it was the best job he ever had because it allowed him to continue to make music. ‘We were ambitious but lacked ability in marketing, it just didn’t come naturally. We’d spend a year making an album and then squabbles would start because we would put so much work in and then nothing commercial would happen.’
After a year of working in the hostel Healy returned to draughtsman roles, it was a steady income that helped facilitate his new interest in metalwork. It started innocently enough when a shop drew him in with their tools and then over time just like the metal he manipulated, he found that he, ‘was just melting into it.’
He got a space in the Sharon Art Studio which is located in Golden Gate Park, a place he describes as ‘looking like Hansel’s and Gretel’s ginger bread house.’ Richard Leaf is someone that he cites as a great mentor but there also were many other people along the way that he learnt from and he soon began to get his work shown in galleries.
Whilst he was exploring this side of himself the music making still continued. ‘The band went to London over a record deal we were so close to signing but it fell through. I was heartbroken, we’d put some much time and effort into making six albums that I decided I needed to do something for myself.’
It was also at that time that he choose to return to Ireland, he wanted to be closer to his family. ‘I applied to NCAD whilst in The States and got accepted.’ That was the catalyst that he needed, he had tried to move home before, staying a year to half a year at a time but he knew the course would help him with the visceral qualities of culture shock, ‘which sometimes can make you feel nauseated, college helped dilute those feelings.’
He feels lucky with ‘the luxury’ that that opportunity gave him. He graduated with a degree in metals and then went on to do his masters in Stockholm’s Kontsfack. The department was called Ädellab, which translates as alchemy and magic. The meaning alone hints at the fact that the teaching was a lot more experimental which he thrived with.
Setting Up In Dublin
‘Twice a year I run beginner hand engraving workshops, there are not much hand engravers left in Dublin and no one is teaching it, it’s a pretty secretive society.’ It was during this time that he met follow artists and they decided to get a studio together.
As a jewellery designer what interests him is the fabrication of the metals, the layering of it into a shape just like he does when creating songs through layering sounds. ‘For me its about playing with textures, drawing on the metal.’ The detail in his pieces is striking, the effort is extremely time consuming but it’s his addiction. ‘I work six days a week from ten till seven, if I’m not working I’m thinking about it! My greatest fear would be to have no money, I’ve come close. It’s an awful feeling, you just feel so useless. I guess I could always busk if this doesn’t work out!’
‘Rathmines is the New York of Dublin,’ he quips with a belly laugh. It’s in walking through the city’s neighbourhoods that Healy finds his inspiration. His next project explores bathroom graffiti, humour being a constant thread in is work.
Necklaces With Udders
‘I’m also part of the art jewellery world, yes I make sellable work and wedding rings etc etc, but I’ve another name called Otto Van Winkle Peterstein,’ he pulls out a piece of body jewellery that looks like a furbie with a clowns head on it and squeaks his nose or it could be it’s udders. ‘This collection is called the clown jewels, I’m part of that unwearable wearable world! I wanted to use humour to connect people who aren’t really interested in art, an attempt to get them to participate more. But it didn’t really work because people just thought that art is shit!’ You have to admire how Healy can embrace the bizarre but also laugh at it.
This individual practise of making suits Healy very well, the band are still together and making music but oddly he hates performing in front of people. A fact that sits in contrast to the activities that he has done in the past. But that’s what makes this man tick, he grasps opposites and somehow makes it work in an inviting way. The clown is a frequent character in his work, it’s a silent performer that he controls.
You can also find his art jewellery work here…
Follow his Instagram here…