Markey Robinson

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David Marcus Robinson, known as Markey Robinson ((1918-02-07)7 February 1918 – 28 January 1999), was an Irish painter and sculptor with a primitive representational style.[1] His main passion was painting, but he also produced sculptures and designed some stained glass panels.

Markey Robinson
David Marcus Robinson

7 February 1918
Belfast, County Antrim
Died28 January 1999 (aged 80)
Belfast, County Antrim
Alma materBelfast School of Art
StyleFigurative abstraction

Early life[edit]

Markey Robinson was born on (1918-02-07)7 February 1918 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the son of a house painter.[2] Robinson began drawing at an early age and preferred it to playing outdoors with other children. His talents were first recognised whilst at Perth Street School were his teacher suggested he received artistic training. Unfortunately due to financial constraints this was not possible and Robinson trained to be a welder.[3] As a child Robinson "read voraciously on art" and later became a toy-maker.[4]

For a time Robinson was a successful amateur featherweight boxer, fighting under the name Boyo Marko. At the outbreak of World War II he joined the Casualty Service of the Civil Defence.[3] He also worked as a merchant seaman. Robinson trained for a short time at Belfast School of Art in the late 1930s and early 1940s. He was seen to be a mysterious character who frequently disappeared for long periods of time, only to re-appear with numerous completed paintings. It is assumed that in these periods of absence that he was working at sea. Robinson held a studio on the Crumlin Road for a number of years.[3]

Artistic career[edit]

Robinson entered two works to the Civil Defence Art Exhibition in 1943. Bomb Crater in Eglington Street and Fire at the International were accepted from the 1,300 works submitted to the juried exhibition and went on display at Belfast Museum and Art Gallery.[3] They were later amongst twelve works including Romeo Toogood's Gleno and James McCord's McAdam's Farm, forwarded to London for inclusion in the Civil Defence Exhibition on Bond Street that summer.[5] The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts sponsored a group exhibition in the textile business of William Ewart & Sons on Bedford Street in Belfast in 1944 when Robinson showed alongside Colin Middleton, Sidney Smith, George Campbell and Gerard Dillon.[6]

The novelist F L Green published the Odd Man Out in 1945. The character of Lukey Mulquin, a young and eccentric portrait painter, was inspired by the ebullient character of Markey Robinson.[3]

Robinson travelled extensively in his time as a merchant seaman, visiting South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. His work shows the influence of native African and South American art. He spent time with Native Americans in Canada and travelled on the River Plate and on the Amazon. Robinson took his family across Europe and spent some time in Paris where he befriended Raoul Dufy and he lived in Spain on the same street as Joan Miró.[7] Robinson was a great believer that you couldn't be called an artist until you had visited Paris. During the turmoil of the 1940s he would often take his daughter Annie to Paris were they stayed in refugee camps. The gallery owner and dealer Hugh Charlton who was amongst the earliest to recognise Robinson's worth commented on his internationalism a few days before the artist's death:

"He is very concerned about Chernobyl, Northern Ireland and any human rights issues. The Troubles in the North are a source of much hardship for him. He simply cannot understand terrorism. The violence drove him out of Belfast and into Dublin in the seventies, but he is back up in the Shankill Road again."[4]

Robinson showed one painting, simply entitled Painting in the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in the 1940s.[7] In his early career Robinson would sell his paintings from the railings of St. Stephen's Green in Dublin and the Country Shop on St. Stephen's Green became his gallery.[7] The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts hosted a one-man exhibition of Robinson's work in 1947. The exhibition was visited by the cast of Sadlers Wells Opera Company, when the mezza-soprano singer Anna Pollak, who, like Robinson had no formal training, purchased one of his works.[8] Robinson returned to the CEMA Gallery in the following year where he showed street scenes, portraits, and landscapes. The exhibition was opened by the actor and Head of CEMA in Northern Ireland, Jack Loudan.[9] Robinson also arranged an exhibition of Ulster peasant art at Mills and Gray's Gallery on Wellington Street in Belfast in November 1948. The exhibition showcased craftwork from across Northern Ireland and consisted of pottery, basketwork, toys and painted linen.[10]

Robinson held an exhibition in the unconventional surrounds of Cottar's Kitchen, a cafe on Belfast's Donegall Square in 1950.[11] In the following year Robinson held a small show in the foyer of the Arts Theatre.[12]

The civil disturbances in Belfast became too much for Robinson to bear and in the 1970s he relocated permanently to Dublin.[13]

Many dealers and critics did not take Robinson's talents and work seriously, and yet more dismissed his works as amateurish, unfinished and repetitive. The reality was than only a small cross-section of his works were ever shown, primarily landscapes, because there was no market for the others. For this reason Markey often repainted the same scenes whilst lamenting the dealers who he felt prohibited him from painting the subjects in which he was most interested.[13]

Susan Stairs critiqued his work as follows:

"The beauty of Markey's work is its spontaneity of line, its freshness of approach. His works do not have a contrived 'finished' appearance. Some galleries felt that this rawness was detrimental to the sale of his work and actually employed people to touch up certain areas in Markey's paintings which they felt was 'unfinished'."[13]

Robinson's works were often subject to squabbles amongst gallery owners, over who had the right to show his works. Robinson was a shy and gentle character, who had little if any interest in the business of art, the dealer system or indeed in the financial benefits of his work. He spurned publicity and rarely attended opening nights or allowed his photo to be taken. He painted for himself and for those who appreciated his work.[13] Legal arguments over Robinson's work and his estate were to continue after his death.[14]

Robinson's first exhibitions were in Belfast during World War II. He became better known through over 20 exhibitions of his work at the Oriel Gallery in Dublin, where he used the upstairs framing room as his studio. The Royal Hibernian Academy was another prominent venue for exhibition of his work. He also had a long record of one-man-shows in other venues both in Ireland and elsewhere.

Robinson's designs for stained glass can be seen over the entrance to the Oriel Gallery and also in the window designed by him in the late 1970s. Markey showed in Philidelphia with a one-man exhibition at Villanova University in 1990.[15]

Artistic subjects[edit]

His paintings cover a wide range of subjects, but there are certain recurring features. These may appear separately or in combination.

  • Village scenes of white cottages in which the white gable end of the cottage is distinctive. Frequently, there are no windows visible in these cottages.
  • Women wearing dark shawls - no facial features are visible
  • Sailboats, normally with dark brown sails, or sometimes white sails
  • Jugs feature prominently in his still life paintings
  • Circus clowns

He painted the inhabited countryside with flat muted colour in almost abstract, almost geometrical compositions.

Death and legacy[edit]

Markey Robinson died in Belfast on 28 January 1999, aged 80. He was survived by two daughters, an ex-wife, and three grandchildren.[7] Markey died intestate leaving at least eleven bank accounts where he had deposited large sums of cash, totalling in excess of £200,000.[16]

In May 2008, the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister), Brian Cowen TD, officially opened a restropective exhibition of Robinson's work at the Oriel Gallery. Entitled Markey at the Oriel, the exhibition featured paintings and sculpture from the 1950s onwards. A 160-page catalogue on the artist by Paul O'Kelly accompanied the exhibition.

In recent years his works have become popular, and widely faked, as his style is relatively easy to copy. His earlier works are more difficult to fake as they are quite detailed. Many of his best works were painted around the 1960s. Towards the end of his life Robinson painted many of the same paintings again and again as he was guaranteed a good price from them. It is estimated that he produced over 10,000 works of art. He never kept any of his paintings. His daughter Annie is also a popular artist and her works are often inspired by Markey.

Further reading[edit]

  • Markey -30 years at the Oriel Gallery, The Oriel Gallery, Dublin, 1997
  • Stairs, Susan, Markey Robinson -A life, the Retrospective, Shortall-Stairs Publications, Dublin, 1998
  • Markey at the Oriel, The Oriel Gallery, Dublin, 2008


  1. ^ "Markey Robinson". Irish Art Auctions. Gormley's Art Auctions. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Treasures of Irish Art". Treasures Gallery, Athlone. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e Stairs, Susan (1998). Markey Robinson -A life, the Retrospective. Dublin: Shortall-Stairs Publications. p. 6. ISBN 0953471004.
  4. ^ a b McLaughlin, Brighid (24 January 1999). "Here's to you Mr Robinson". Sunday Independent. p. 21. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  5. ^ "London will see Ulster CD pictures". Northern Whig. 8 March 1943. p. 2. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  6. ^ "Art exhibition for Belfast workers". Northern Whig. 7 November 1944. p. 2. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d Stairs, (1998), p.8
  8. ^ "Exhibition of paintings". Northern Whig. 30 July 1947. p. 2. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  9. ^ "Exhibition of Markey Robinson's paintings". Northern Whig. 4 May 1948. p. 2. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  10. ^ "Ulster cottage art show". Belfast Telegraph. 8 November 1948. p. 6. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  11. ^ "Art and literature". Northern Whig. 9 October 1950. p. 3. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  12. ^ Quidnunc (11 October 1951). "An Irishman's diary". Irish Times. p. 5. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  13. ^ a b c d Stairs, (1998), p.9
  14. ^ "Markey was able but not willing". Sunday Independent. 21 March 1999. p. 35. Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  15. ^ "Galleries". The Philidelphia Inquirer. 26 January 1990. p. 96. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  16. ^ "Gallery blocked on sale of artist's works". The Irish Times. 2 April 1999. Retrieved 4 April 2021.

External links[edit]