Oliver McParland’s Journey to become an artist is extraordinary and almost miraculous in some sense. The Belfast man who now resides in Ballycastle Co Antrim tells us about his fondest moment after drawing a picture of Robert F Kennedy and it eventually finding its way to the White House in Washington DC. To a day he and his friends were being shot at in Belfast and a woman appearing out of nowhere to help, who turned out to be Mother Teresa.
His work to date is a 25ft Mural of Irish Professional Mixed Martial Artist, Conor McGregor. He has also created portraits of Rory Mcilroy (Golfer), James Nesbitt (Actor) and Eric Cantona (Legendary Manchester United Footballer), as well as many other people far and wide across the globe.
Where were you born and who were your parents? I was born in Belfast to parents Michael, (Mickey) and Isobel in 1957.
Can you tell us about your school days and your love for art? Going through school I would say art was uppermost on my mind and my absolute favourite subject, but sadly I wasn’t given the encouragement that was needed at the time. Kids who show a certain talent or flair for a talent should be given every possible encouragement and direction with that talent. I believe my flair for art was God given as I had no training in this area, I was just able to do it from as early as I can remember. My parents couldn’t draw a bath of water.
As adults we look back on our life’s and have certain fond memories, is there one that sticks out for you? Yes, it was around July of 1969 when I had just turned 12 years of age and my dad and I had traveled into town to the local newspaper offices of The Belfast Telegraph to show them my latest drawing of the late Robert F Kennedy who had been assassinated in August of the previous year. The staff and editor seemed very impressed with my drawing of the late senator that they decided to run a little feature on it for me for the following days edition. I couldn’t believe it, the next day when I saw my drawing, my name and my dads occupation (Mechanic) in print. They assured me they would send it to Robert Kennedy’s mother Rose, which they did. As far as I know that pencil drawing is now somewhere in the archives of the White House in Washington DC. I’ll never forget that day or my dad, for taking the time to do this with me. One of those special moments in your life you always remember.
I recently read your blog about meeting Mother Theresa in the 1970’s in Belfast, but it was no ordinary meeting can you elaborate?
On this particular day, myself and ‘Fra’ were casually walking along back down Springhill Avenue to make a left turn at the bottom to return to school when we heard the boom! boom ! crack ! crack! crack! I’ll always remember that sound echoing in the air then trailing off into the distance. We were pretty street savvy as you had to be, living in Belfast, we quickly realised we were being shot at from the top end of the Avenue. Running for cover we both simultaneously dived into a what can best be described as the foundations of new build houses under construction at the time.We lay their as low as we could humanly get hoping the firing would stop, when suddenly into my vision came this woman dressed in white which reminded me of a table cloth. She came running across the street towards us motioning with both hands and yelling what sounded like ‘stay down, stay down’, I thought she was crazy even attempting to run across that street ablaze with gunfire, but dash across towards us she did arms waving all over the place. I couldn’t believe it. Huddled behind her were five or six other women, similarly dressed although much younger than her, some holding their hands to their ears to drown out the noise of the gunfire.As this older woman got closer to us I could see her face more clearly, she had what we in Belfast would call a well weather beaten face, but very determined expression. Nothing was going to stop this woman except maybe a bullet.
What are your thoughts now about meeting Mother Theresa, do you think that someone was looking after you?Regarding Mother Theresa suddenly appearing that day and coming to my aid, I really cant make any logical sense out of it other than to be forever in her debt for selflessly risking her own safety for me that day. God Bless her.I firmly believe there is something or someone watching over us at certain times in our lives.
Have you always loved art? This fire for art was always there in the background, always on my shoulder whispering. I think it’s what kept me going when a lot of people would have given up as well as the encouragement of my family and friends. Their belief in my ability has really kept me pursuing my goal of becoming an artist. Positivity and self believe in what I do.
As Pablo Picasso said “All children are born artists, the problem is how to remain an artist while growing up” I was one of those children that somehow survived.
What helped you to have faith that someday you would become an artist, it doesn’t happen overnight and some people give up, so why did you carry on? I never lifted a pencil or brush for approximately 25 years + as I had to put food on my table and provide for my wife and children. My priority were always my family. Art took a back seat during this time. But when my children were reared and all made their own way in life I thought ..ok, my time now. Time to explore what I can do with my talent. I was invited to create a winter wonderland for the kids of Ballycastle around Christmas time 2013 comprising of Disney characters and it was a huge success, after that I received a phone call from Barry’s amusements inviting me to revamp the artwork above the ghost train which I thoroughly enjoyed because they gave me free reins to create what I felt would work for their ghost train . Once again it was well received. Since then I really haven’t stopped, private commissions, celebrity portraits One man exhibition in the Millennium Forum in Derry early 2015. Commissioned to paint the late great Playwright Brian Friel on the back of that exhibition.
I have said to you that my mother and her family are from Ballycastle. What was it about this little town that appeals to you so much that you have moved here? Regarding Ballycastle as my chosen place to live. We holidayed here for several years before finally deciding to move here. Recently voted the best place in Ireland to live I whole heartedly agree. It has a more laid back approach to everyday life than that of a big city like Belfast. Absolutely love it here.
The art world is a difficult place to sustain a living in as there are so many people doing the same thing, so what would you say to someone to help them stand out from everyone else? My views on art in general are : Art is a tough medium to get involved in as you say everyone seems to be doing the same thing for a slice of the cake. You have to treat art like a business like any other, for example if you think that if you create an art piece that alone will be enough to open doors then forget about it right now. It wont. My advice to any budding artists is to keep doing what your doing and if you know what your artistic strengths are then magnify them and over emphasize that feature. Shout about it as much as you can. Just keep putting your artwork out there and doors will slowly begin to open. Very slowly. What you put in you will get out. Just believe in your skill and have faith in what you do.
My maxim regarding art is : “BELIEVE TO ACHIEVE” and “LOVE WHAT I DO..DO WHAT I LOVE”
I am sure that people reading this will agree with me, that you are an amazing artist, but also an amazing person. A brave man who I believe was definitely being looked after so that we could enjoy your work.
If anyone would like to see Oliver’s work you can find it on his website: http://olivermcparland.com
The not to be missed true story of how Oliver met Mother Theresa can be found here: http://olivermcparland.com/index.php/2016/03/04/the-day-i-met-mother-teresa
We wish you all the best in the future and let’s hope that Conor McGregor comes to Ballycastle and signs the mural of him.
All the best Ann x