Chris Flicker’s mother used to say that before he could walk he was drawing on walls. Decades later, he still is.
“When I was growing up, I never put posters on the wall. I used to paint on the walls instead, and it was one thing my mother kind of encouraged,” he says.
“She used to give out, but not that much. She knew I could be doing a lot worse. I started off doing cartoons; Bugs Bunny and things like that.
“So there’s a few buildings around the world with my paintings underneath the wallpaper somewhere!”
Originally from Leyton in East London, Chris moved to Athlone in 1985. The Baylin resident is a truck driver but also an active amateur artist with a focus on street murals and canvas portraits.
He recently completed a large and impressive mural for the new Cloud Nine Cafe on Payne’s Lane in Athlone. The mural was completed on a single Saturday in early March.
“I had to hire a cherry picker to do it, so I was limited in the time I had. In total, it took me seven hours of constant work. I would have liked to have spent a bit longer doing it, but the body gave in!
“There’s been a great reaction to it, both on Facebook and through people coming up to me on the street.”
He feels Athlone would benefit from having more street art, as it “definitely brightens up” urban environments.
“Longford has a lot of it and Waterford has a street art festival every year which brings in artists from all over the world. Athlone could do with a bit more, especially when it’s trying to be an art-centred town. There’s more art in the world than just what’s hanging on the wall of a gallery.”
Chris is a completely self-taught artist whose interest in graffiti art stems from the nascent hip hop culture of early 1980s London.
“The graffiti went along with the hip hop scene, the break-dancing and all of that. I was running around the streets of London, graffiti-ing. That’s where I learned it all,” he says.
With relatives in Athlone, he used to come here for his summer holidays as a boy. When he was 17 his parents, who are now deceased, opted to move from London to a cottage in Bealnamulla.
“My father retired from work and said, that’s it, we’ve had enough of London. I said I would stay in London to work, but that only lasted for five months! I came over here to visit my mother and father and never went back.”
Unsurprisingly, moving from England’s biggest city to a provincial Irish town was “a big culture shock” at the time.
“I would be waiting for the bus to come to bring me into town when, back then, there was no bus. I was wearing big fat laces in my runners and getting a few strange looks!”
Following the move to Ireland his artwork took a back seat for many years after he unsuccessfully tried to get a job with an animation company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, in Dublin.
In 1995, Chris started working as a truck driver and, around this time, started dabbling in art again.
“It was a hobby, just something to do in the evenings, and I got more and more into it. I’m not making any money at it, but I have a few paintings at home and I’d ideally like to have an exhibition at some stage.”
Most of Chris’s paintings are of well-known musicians. “I used to DJ a lot and I’m heavily influenced by music. I still have my decks and all of my vinyl.”
Chris recently donated a painting of Bob Marley to a fundraising event for a friend of his, Paul Kelly from Parnell Square, who is battling cancer. The painting was auctioned in The Fiddlers Bar. “We got €500 for it at the auction, which I was delighted with,” he says.
A few years ago he was asked to produce a painting of Robbie Henshaw, Jack Carty, and other players who have represented Buccaneers, and this went on display in The Bounty pub in Coosan.
In addition, he produced a graffiti-style mural of John Count McCormack which was prominently displayed by the Athlone Civic Square for a time.
“‘Boxer’ Moran got me to do that and he was a great support when he was a councillor. He had great vision when it came to things like that. He has gone on now to better things!”
Another initiative he was involved in six or seven years ago was a gathering of artists to offer their work for sale in the Civic Square on a Saturday once a month. This started well, but over time interest dwindled and it fizzled out.
Chris has no set routine when it comes to working on art, and he is adamant that it’s not something which can be forced.
“I paint when I feel the need to. You have to have that ‘want’ to do it, otherwise you’re wasting your time.
“I have one painting on the easel now that I’ve been doing for the past two months, and I haven’t gone near it in three weeks. It’s only going to take another hour or two to finish it, but I don’t want to go near it until it’s time, otherwise I’ll ruin it.”
Chris is engaged to his partner, Karen, and they are getting married in September. He’s had less time to devote to art since the birth of their daughter, Millie, two and a half years ago.
“Having a child put an end to any spare time that I had!” he smiles. “But I’m actually getting (Millie) into it now.
“I have an easel for her, next to mine, so when I’m painting she can let loose on a canvas as well. She holds the paint brush perfectly. She’s got potential!”
This is a particularly busy year for Chris as, in addition to his work, family, and upcoming marriage, he is also in the process of building an art studio in his back garden.
He says if money was no object, he would spend more time in the creative space.
“If I won the lottery, I would give up the truck driving and just become a professional artist. To be able to just tip away at it in your own time... that must be a good lifestyle!” he smiles.
* For more details about Chris Flicker’s artwork, see his Facebook page: ‘Art by Flicker’