A Journey Can Hero – James ‘Jimmy’ Dixon (1887-1970)

A finger of land. A boat adrift in a storm. Isolated. An outpost nine miles into the Northern Atlantic, one steeped in history, music, song and dance. Tory Island, off the north west coast of Co. Donegal.

In the late 1950’s Derek Hill, artist, was painting on Tory Island when a cantankerous old man, looking over his shoulder, said “I could do better if I tried”. Intrigued, Hill challenged James ‘Jimmy’ Dixon (1887-1970) to prove it. He gave Dixon paint and paper. Dixon refused paintbrushes choosing to make his own from donkey hair.

Dixon smallholder, reader, sailor, rifle-shooter and taxidermist, harvested crops with a sickle and made model boats, a jeweled walking stick and jewelry. Canny, he’d been painting before the encounter with Hill. “I could do that” wasn’t the catalyst for pensioner-painting but a challenge, the use of donkey-hair brushes derived from experience, not eccentricity.

Raging seascapes, the fishing fleet, portraits, towering cliff-scapes, religious imagery, and still-life. Dixon painted painter’s pictures not merely picture-making but an intense visual record of the island, it’s people and their lives based on deep familiarity and intimate knowledge. The strong brushwork and bold shapes that make up his compositions are an expressive extension of the powerful forces that shaped the island he called home for his entire life.



Two Painters Works by Alfred Wallis and James Dixon (London: Merrell Holberton Publishers Limited, 1999)

Clark, Wallace. Sailing Round Ireland (London: B.T. Batsford LTD, 1976)

Hill, Derek. James Dixon: Paintings of Tory Island (Cambridge: Benet Gallery, 1967)

Petullo, Anthony. Self-Taught and Outsider Art: The Anthony Petullo Collection (University of Illinois Press, 2001)




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