Monday, November 04, 2013

RIP Ulick Mahoney

Ulick Mahoney; 2008; oil on canvas; 20" x 16"

Ulick Mahoney blessed this world with a brute force for art. He loved it with all his being, and for that art loved him back and rewarded him with a prodigious talent for color and the invention of form. He pushed the boundaries of abstraction with a tireless passion and reckless abandon, like a bruising football running back breaking tackles. Last summer he died of a heart attack while camping in Vermont. The body of work he left behind is a powerful testament to an artist as gifted as they come.

Ulick Mahoney; 1985; welded steel

He came out of the Museum School in Boston as a sculptor. He did a tour at Triangle working with Anthony Caro, Karen Wilkens and Clement Greenberg. It made a lasting impression on him.

When I met Ulick in about 1985 through my friend Liane Thatcher, he was living the dream and he had it all: a gallery in Boston, a welding studio, a nice house with cats in Jamaica Plain where he could paint, and his own successful house painting business complete with truck and ladders to fund his passion. He was irrepressible, unstoppable and larger than life. His laughter boomed and roared with a crackling rasp. I once referred to him as the Fred Flintstone of the Boston art world.

After I lost touch with Ulick a few years later as our fortunes changed, I was shocked to find out that he had been devastated by the bottle and had lost everything, literally ending up on the street, and finally the Y.

Ulick Mahoney at UMASS Boston, 2008

By 1990 I was living in Boston and was walking through Harvard Square with my son Rory when I spotted him sitting in a Cafe. I had Rory go up and ask him if he was the famous artist Ulick Mahoney. The blast of laughter that erupted from him shook the buildings and sent pigeons skyward.

Ulick Mahoney at UMASS Boston, 2008

Having me back in his life as a friend and fellow artist, he claimed, made him want to paint again. And he did. Sculpture was out of the question, but painting small canvasses was possible, and that made him almost as happy; he started painting up a storm. Ulick loved to tell me how much money he saved at Utrecht's thanks to the sales. His life was pretty simple at this point. Mostly AA. Thanks to them he would get and stay sober for the rest of his life.

Ulick Mahoney; 1993; oil on oval canvas; 18 x 12

The next few years would be the time of his oval paintings. These musical abstractions danced inside the curving frame of the canvas, and I have to say, I don't think any painter has ever brought more to that rounded surface. They were pure delight, and they sprung from him like he had a workshop of elves going all night.

Me and Ulick(left) at Bow Street Gallery

Solo shows on Newbury Street in Boston and Cambridge kept him flourishing. The paintings and drawings always kept the sculptor in him alive, but fortune never reconnected him with that first love.

Ulick Mahoney; 2008; oil on canvas; 40" x  32"

He did, however, fall in love for real, and marry, and eventually move to Rhode Island. He kept painting and drawing, and worked with addicts and substance abusers. He enjoyed an extensive solo show of work at UMASS Boston in 2008. He did a stint at the Vermont Studio Program, and fell in love with the country up there.

Ulick Mahoney at UMASS Boston, 2008

We drifted apart the way friends do from time to time. When I heard the news from his wife Joyce my heart broke as well. Probably the most gifted artist I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, a great friend, with a heart as big as a Vermont mountain.

Addison Parks

Spring Hill

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