De Veres: 22 June

John Shinnors Scarecrow Portrait – 10 2001 oil on canvas 91 x 91cm

The scarecrow is one of John Shinnors’ most abiding motifs. The painter traces its origin to the unhappy summers he spent as a child on an uncle’s isolated farm in rural Co Clare. Wandering around a neighbour’s land one evening, he came upon a life-size mannequin in a copse – dressed in women’s underwear. This striking and surreal encounter stayed with him. The impact was associated by the impressionable child with the scary stories of banshees that his uncle liked to recount in the evenings. The loneliness, isolation and occasional terror he felt back in those days was transmuted many years later into the eerie, quasi-heraldic images we see in his eighteen Scarecrow Portraits. These paintings were first shown at the Limerick City Gallery in 2002. Each of them measures a substantial 91 x 91cm and although any one of them could pass as a stand-alone painting, the artist stipulated that they be hung together as a set. There’s little suggestion of the traditional scarecrow. The dark, resonant portraits, many with black holes for eyes, are suggestive of some tortured Everyman with occasional hints of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series. The playful ‘no birds’ sign in Scarecrow Portrait 2 is a rare instance of levity. Scarecrow Portrait 4 depicts a sheaf of corn – indicative of what a scarecrow guards, and also suggestive of the scarecrow-like Wren Boys who used to favour straw costumes. Shinnors is somewhat of an outsider in contemporary art so it’s tempting to see this recurring scarecrow motif also as a playful essay in self-portraiture. A visit to the National Self-Portrait Collection in the University of Limerick adds fuel to this hypothesis. His wonderfully lit and slightly sinister self-portrait features a sharp triangular nose. The very nose that you see in Scarecrow Portraits 9 and 10. This assemblage of eighteen paintings has a guide price of €60,000 to €90,000.