Peter Meets, Brent Pope

 Brent Pope fahsioning his shirt line #PopeApparel @popeapparel #brentpope 

Brent Pope fahsioning his shirt line #PopeApparel @popeapparel #brentpope 

Peter Meets Brent Pope

It was a summer's day in June, I was exhibiting my exhibition, ‘I AM HOMAN’ in the Copperhouse Gallery and a friend of mine messaged me to see if it was okay if she brought a friend with her to see my work. She had been the previous week and wanted her friend to see the show before it ended. I was standing waiting for them to arrive when I saw her and her friend walking towards the gallery. I recognised her friend from somewhere and couldn’t place him, but by the time he had reached the door (it was a glass door) I had put two and two together and realised it was Brent Pope.

After an incredibly warm introduction, I began to walk him around the exhibition, telling him the story to each of my paintings, some about chronic pain, anxiety, and depression, others about the landscape to different parts of my life. As we moved from each painting he began to share his stories and struggles with his own mental health issues. I was talking to Brent Pope, the man, not the ‘celebrity’. I suddenly felt a little privileged to be standing there talking to a man, who in many ways is a rugby icon and legend to many girls and boys, and men and women in Ireland and New Zealand, not to mention the world; I got to know of Popey when my interests changed and I organically became a fan (I went to a rugby school and hated it for 10 years. Go figure!) of rugby after my schoolboy years. I had seen and heard him on T.V. and radio in the later half of my life critiquing rugby. In those moments we shared discussing my art and others gone before me, Brent became human to me in that all too short meeting and I became a fan of both the man and his work.

Brent Pope or Popey (a nickname that has passed from his grandad to his dad, and now to him) has become a permanent fixture in the Irish culture. Brent received a Bachelor of Commerce in economics, valuation and property management from Canterbury University in New Zealand, as well as postgraduate qualifications in Marketing, Public Relations and Sports Management in UCD, Ireland. We adopted him in 1991 when he came to play for St Mary's College R.F.C and then coached Clontarf Rugby Club, bringing them to Division One of the AIL. He had come from a whirlwind career in his home country of New Zealand where he played for various provincial teams but settling in Otago for ten years. He had been shortlisted twice to play for his mother country but had to withdraw due to injuries. Brent tells of his heartbreak and love of rugby in his autobiography ‘Brent Pope, If You Really Knew Me’. In ’93 he started to become a fixture on our T.V screens around the country working for, RTE Sport. He was the other half of the ‘Hook and Popey Roadshow’ and has featured on many other radio, and TV shows gradually gaining notoriety throughout the years.   

In 2014 we once again saw Brent's creative flair when he launched his fashion label ‘Pope’ specialising in high-quality shirts and a shoe range. “I wanted shirts that were easy enough to wash and iron, that kept their shape well, but most importantly the material felt amazing on and stood the test of time”. Brent has a passion for art and is a massive art collector and gallery owner. He set up a gallery called ‘Outside in Art Gallery’, that specialises in ‘outsider’ or ‘brut Art’. Outside in Art Gallery creates a safe place for people with mental health issues, the homeless and special needs people to come express themselves in the form of art and creativity and sell their work. Brent believes in the struggling artist or the art that isn’t deemed mainstream. His passion for mental health issues goes beyond the call of duty as he is a dedicated charity worker and ambassador to ‘Walk in my Shoes’, ‘Cycle Against Suicide’ and ‘Brent Pope Rugby Legends Foundation’. He has written numerous award-winning children’s books for various charities. He is a rugby journalist for many publications all over the world, such as ‘Rugby World’ and ‘Emerald Rugby’. He is a regular feature in the Evening Herald and in 2013 penned his award-winning autobiography ‘Brent Pope, If You Really Knew Me’, telling of his incredible real, raw and at times, heart-breaking, story of his life so far. 

I admittedly didn’t know much about Brent, except for his rugby career and being a TV personality, till now. Since I have researched him and read his answers a few times over, I have become a massive fan of him and for what he stands for. For what he believes in, and wants to do for people in the world, for communities that come from different backgrounds and the struggling artist trying to make it in the world.  

 

 1. Do you have a favourite artist and what’s your favourite piece by them?

Because I collect I have a passion for a particular kind of art, which is termed Outsider art, Brut art, naive art or as I like to call it “art unspoilt by culture” in that as soon as an outsider artist reaches mainstream then in some regards they are no longer outsiders. No longer what made that art unique. If I had to pick an artist that was more mainstream it would be someone like Andy Warhol or Jackson Pollock, because like them or not they dared to be different. Strangely I also like old circus canvases painted by a famous American who was still painting into his 90’s, Bob Johnson. his work is everything I like, bold, colourful, storytelling and different it’s now very collectable.

 

2. What was the last exhibition you went to? 

An exhibition in New Zealand of the work of English graffiti artist Banksy, it was curated by his former manager and the man that discovered him Steve Lazarides.  Steve is great and was so kind as to be a part of my RTE documentary on finding outsider artists in Ireland

 

3. What’s your favourite book?

Despite having written numerous children’s books and an autobiography, I tend not to have favourites, I generally enjoy autobiographical or self-help books of which I have just read about all of them, years ago I read a really simple book titled “Starbucks changed my life.” It was about a man who thought he had it all, lost everything but then discovered what really matters, it moved me to be a better person and that’s what I need from books and art. I recently read that Tom Hanks brought the rights to make the movie, I loved that book, so simple in many ways but with a real message on what’s important in life, I like that. From sports side of thing Andre Agassi’s autobiography was excellent, who knew for a while he hated tennis.

 

4. Who’s your icon?

Nelson Mandela

 

5. I know you are an accomplished writer, but do you like to dabble in a bit of painting every now and then?

 I try, I love vibrant colour, it represents life. last time I was in New Zealand I purchased some oils and canvas and just painted for the love of it. I also love texture and thick oils, I love to feel the painting as well as see it, if that makes sense, to run my fingers over the crusted oils is what makes the painting come alive for me.

 

6. What influences you on a daily basis?

Kindness to others, giving back

 

7. What’s your favourite sound?  

Belly laughs

 

8. What has been the single most important event in your career so far?

Opening up about my lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression and letting the shame finally go, it has taken over 40 years but at last, I am no longer ashamed, I am me and sometimes that is enough.

 

9. What do you hope your contribution will bring to your community?

I try and live my life from a line in the movie Bucket List, where two men are facing death and one says at the end of your life, ‘do not ask if you have made a difference in your own life, but have you made a difference to someone else’s’. My purpose in life and community is to give back, seriously I would rather be remembered for speaking about mental health than anything I ever did in life, in many ways life is about finding a purpose, I hope I have found mine?

From an art point of view, I guess that art is subjective, that none of us have really the right to judge what art means to another person, of course, there are experts on technique, colours influences or history, but only the artist themselves know what is really inside the work. That is why I love outsider art, it is free from the confines of what art should be, it is the artist’s passion, many times their reason for getting up each day. A wonderful free expression of who they are inside. I hope anybody that has seen any of my exhibitions sees that too.

 

10. What is the hope for your audience when they encounter your work?

Pleasure and learning, we are forever learning.

 

 11. Who has been the most influential person to you and your work?

Myself, I know that sounds a bit egotistical buts it’s quite the opposite really, most things in life I have achieved I have on my own and more so because I was told that I could not achieve it. My father Mick, now 88 is a kind and loving man and I hope that some of his empathy has rubbed off on me, I want to be known as someone that helped others and helped society and be remembered for trying to give back something positive.

 

12. If you could have dinner or a drink with someone, alive or dead who would it be?

Nelson Mandela, just something about a man who spent so many years forgiving others, never bitter, and oh Elvis Presley, and John Lennon could throw in a few after dinner tunes and Grace Kelly could serve the peas.

 

13. Do you think an artist needs to be tortured to create?  

What do you mean, like physically, ha, no absolutely not, artists need to have a creative side and an ability to tap into that, but we all have that in us don’t we? I have seen many beautiful, inspiring art from those people that did not think they had any talent at all, to me talent is just another word for what’s inside of you coming out in paint, words, song etc, and again who decides someone has a talent or not, maybe just Simon Cowell?

 

14.   What was the first piece of art you bought?

I studied art history at school and remember even then being attracted to the surrealists and I bought a print of a work by Salvador Dali.

 

15.   Where’s your favourite space to get creative in?

A quiet space.

 

16.   What’s next for you?

I have a book coming out called Win, that I co-wrote with a psychotherapist Jason Brennan. I wanted a book that would inspire people, a book where they can look at successful athletes in Ireland and say “wow I never knew that they felt like that” to empower others to know that in life its “Ok not to be Ok sometimes” it is a self-help book for success in sport and life. I’m proud of it, to be honest even if it's not a best seller I don’t care about that, I care that I am proud of it.  

Art-wise I want to open another working gallery specifically for outsider artists, a safe place for them to go and work, a gallery where they can sell their work and I can promote them. The likes of Art and drama therapy is dying in this country mainly due to lack of government funding etc. but I have seen first-hand the magnificent work they all do at giving artists a chance to grow and inspire through their art, I have seen that creating art can help the recovery of certain conditions, and soothe anger and pain, we are all too ready to medicate people rather than work on a more creative alternative. I would also like to make a series of documentaries around art.

 

 Brent Pope with a sample of his shoe collection form his luxury brand, Instagram, @popecreatedbybrent @popeapparel #brentpope 

Brent Pope with a sample of his shoe collection form his luxury brand, Instagram, @popecreatedbybrent @popeapparel #brentpope 

Peter Homan