Our reporter Federica Montella interviewed Limerick-based artist Jean Ryan Hakizimana during Culture Night 2018 in his studio-gallery on Liddy street.
In the middle of Liddy street, a very quiet backroad that culminates in the hectic and more popular Henry Street, there is Jean Ryan Hakizimana’s art studio and gallery.
Jean Ryan – the name he adopted for his profession – is a painter, art teacher and movie maker who has been operating in Limerick for fifteen years. Originally from Burundi, he found in Limerick a vibrant, multicultural art scene that he hasn’t left ever since.
“As an artist, you settle where people admire you the most. Limerick people like my work, they know me. A lot of people that work here have spent time abroad, and told their friends about the city; Limerick was very attractive artistically to me before I even came here”, he explains.
Jean has travelled around the country, but he found in Limerick something peculiar that he hasn’t found anywhere else.
“There are only two cities in Ireland, artistically speaking: Galway and Limerick. The difference is that artists from Galway mostly focus on Galway; the ones from Limerick paint the rest of the world”, Jean says.
The most striking characteristic of his collection, other than the wide range of themes, is the use of a very vibrant and energetic palette. Whether the colours are used to convey joy, or a sense of anxiety, the chromatic choices are definitively singular.
Every painting radiates harmony, passion and intensity at the same time. The bright reds and yellows seem to create an ironic contrast with the greyness that often enfolds Limerick’s sky.
“When I came to Limerick, I asked myself this question: how will you contribute to the art scene? I decided I was going to paint something unique, something they had never seen before.
“Sunsets, strong colours, this is what represents me, and where I come from. I was born in Africa, we have very bright sunsets, and my idea is to show something that represents another part of the world, especially to the people that have never travelled and have never seen it before. At least now they can see it from a person that has been there. So now, when people see a sunset, they’ll think ‘This must be Jean!’”, he laughs.
His gallery hosts a very diverse collection of artworks; the walls are crowded with still lifes, portraits of exotic animals, landscapes and abstract paintings, all neatly arranged only to welcome the visitors of Culture Night.
“I usually don’t have all these paintings up, it intimidates my students”, he explains.
Mr Ryan has been teaching art classes in Limerick for over 15 years. He teaches every sort of painting technique to people of all levels. The thing he finds the most rewarding is to teach people that have never painted before, in order to show them that it is possible for everyone to become an artist.
Jean believes that Limerick city should make more efforts to promote artistic events and encourage artists in participating. “They are trying, but it’s not enough”, he says.
A good number of his paintings have sold nationally and worldwide. Although he sometimes likes painting en plein air with his students, he often paints from his memory, or his dreams. When asked to pick his favourite painting, he’s obviously very indecisive.
“I want to impress, I want to change someone’s day when they see my paintings. I can’t choose one painting! Each work I paint should be better than the one before, they say that an artwork is never finished: you can always add something and make it better”.
On my way out, he hands me one of the cards he sells featuring his favourite paintings. It’s a brightly coloured card with a scene he painted in Florence a few years back. “A present”, he says, as he thanks me and wishes me the best.
Jean’s website can be found here