Jim Mc Carthy – A Dyslexic Visual Artist’s Story

jim mccarthy dyslexic artist

My name is Jim Mc Carthy. I’m an Irish Visual Artist, and sign my work as ‘Jim’. I’m from Co. Cork in the South of Ireland. I was officially diagnosed with Dyslexia in 2012 and with Scotopic Sensitivity (visual stress) in 2013.

I have thought that I might be dyslexic from a young age. But didn’t get the opportunity to be tested by a Clinical Psychologist until 2012. I’m extremely Dyslexic, but have a high IQ, I fall into a group called 2e Twice exceptional, (very bad dyslexia and high IQ). I left school at the age of 13 a few weeks before my 14th birthday.

At that stage I had been in 6 different schools. And would have been taken out of class during the week for special classes for slow readers. Corporal punishment was allowed in schools at that time, so I often found myself getting hit with a cane (bamboo walking stick) or a leather strap. I would have been put standing in the corner or put outside the classroom. Most of it was because I have a high IQ (of which I didn’t know at that time), but couldn’t read or write like other kids.

The teachers thought that I was lazy and not trying hard enough. If they asked me verbally a question, on any subject that they had spoken about. I could answer correctly. But couldn’t write the correct answer down on paper as my spelling wasn’t great. And in exams I couldn’t read the questions fast enough or understand the questions completely.

My upbringing was quite poor, and my mother tried her best to help me. Teaching me the difference between a lower case b and d. I still us her advice today, that a lower case b is like a 6. It’s still the only way that I know the difference. And she would spend hours sitting with me in the evenings, helping with my homework. I found a job working on building sites at the age of 13, during summer holidays. And was to return to school, but the employer offered me a apprenticeship as a carpenter/joiner, and he spoke to my mother. Between the principal of the school and my mother, they agreed that it would be a good opportunity for me. Plus the income (wages) were very welcome at home, to help my family.

Jim Mc Carthy - A dyslexic visual artist's story

During all my childhood and in life, I found my solas, a place to escape the world and lose time in creating art, drawing and colouring, painting and creating sculpture. I won lots of children colouring competitions, winning a bicycle, radio, medals and other prizes. As a teenager I would painting designs and art on motorbikes for clients.

I worked as a carpenter/joiner, in lots of different locations. If I was offered a foreman or site manager job. I would make an excuse not to take the job and move to a different job. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do the paperwork.

I have always worked and work real hard. But in 2011, Ireland went into a extremely bad recession. The whole economy collapsed. I found myself out of work for the first time. I could only find a few days work here and there. But nothing permanent.

Every job advertisement was looking for a degree. And my qualifications as a carpenter/joiner were now worthless, plus I had left school too early to have gained any examination grades. I knew that I would have to return to college and aquire a degree, if I were to find any permanent work. So! Because I had always done art and really enjoyed creating. I figured that maybe art was my way to get a degree. I knew that any other subject might be a challenge.

I created a portfolio and applied to Crawford College of Art and Design. On my interview, because my portfolio of drawings, sculpture and paintings was so strong, the college offered me, a 2nd year direct entry into Fine Art. Meaning that instead of doing a 4 year Honours Fine Art BA degree. I would be doing it in 3 years, skipping 1st year.

In Fine Art it is a self directed course, meaning that you are given a space to work in, and don’t have subjects or classes, apart from lectures every few days. The lecturers and teachers walk around from student to student every few days. So you can come and go as you please. Not like other schools where you have classroom subjects every hour. It’s a more academic course than learning skills. So I never got taught painting, sculpture or printing while in the College. But I had taught myself these skills from a very young age, and could use them if needed. I was finding the academic classes very hard.

Writing essays and writing down the information about art history. Trying to read the art books and articles was so slow and by the time I had finished, I had forgotten what I had read. But during a lecture on Robert Rauschenberg where we watched a film about his work,  he also spoke openly about being dyslexic and what it was like and the difficulties that he had had in life and school. I could see myself in him, I was totally blown away. And wanted to shout ‘that’s me, that what I experience’. Straight after the lecture film was over, I went straight to the disability office. I was anxious and nervous, but knew it was my only chance. And knowing that the office was called a disability office, made me feel ashamed. But I needed to do this for myself, I needed to know. I told her about the film, and my life story. During the next week or so, she did version exams and test with me.

Then one day I got called from class and was told to go to a certain room to do a examination. I really didn’t know anything about it. It was a test by a Clinical Psychologist. At the end of the test, she congratulated me and said that I was dyslexic. I couldn’t understand why she congratulated me. And then she told me that I had a high IQ, that I wasn’t stupid, but very intelligent. That I was in the same group as Leonardo DeVinci, Pablo Picasso, Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh, Rodin, and many more.

After that the disability office supplied me with a laptop. Which had Read & Write Gold, Dragon Dictate, and Mind Mapping. They also gave me a live-scribe pen for lectures. I had a one to one each week with a disability officer who would check my spelling before I handed up any essay or seminar paper.

I still had to work harder than the other students in reading and writing. But now I could scan a text and the Read & Write Gold would read it. I could speak to Dragon Dictate and it would type for me (I am using it now for this piece). I found an quite room and would go there to study and talk to the computer. In Fine Art you have to have a concept (a subject) to write about and create work about. So I decided to use myself as my concept on how I perceive the world as a dyslexic.

Jim Mc Carthy - A dyslexic visual artist's story

I started to create paintings and sculpture to enhance my essays and seminar papers. The lecturers couldn’t understand how I was mixing paints colours to create other colours. And when asked what colours I mixed, I couldn’t remember the name, I just see a colour and seem to understand what colours to mix to get it. I still don’t know the names of colours that I use.

I’m very bad at names of everything including people and couldn’t name the other students in my year. Around this time I was studying dyslexia and I found an advertisement on Scotopic Sensitivity (visual stress) that some dyslexic people may also have as well as having dyslexia. And because I was using colour and in an art college, I decided to go. I went to the opticians and got tested and it seems that I am one of the dyslexics who have it. Now I use colour overlays to read and also have colour overlay glasses.

It doesn’t cure my dyslexia, it makes it easier for me to read longer and calms everything down. I still have to work very hard at reading and writing. But the technology that is available today for dyslexics is very discreet and helpful. Art has always been a place for me to go, a place to get lost in. A place where I could escape the world. A place where I lose myself and time goes by. I can even forget to eat. And it was through my art that I found myself, that I found out who I really am! ‘A dyslexic person’.

I decided to go public with my art, and be honest and open about being dyslexic. I started to create art about my dyslexia and how I am affected by additive light. I wrote a seminar paper on how colour of light can affect how we see different things, but also how florescent light can affect reading. The colour overlay that I use is blue and so are my glasses. Other dyslexic people have different colours (the colours don’t help everyone). So I wrote a Thesis on the colour blue. ‘Catharsis and Reflection through the Colour Blue’. And created work in relation to how I see the world. For this work I received an BA Honours Degree in Fine Art.

And in 2017 I received an award ranking me in the top 10% of Undergraduates in the world, for my research and work. The World Undergraduate Awards look at all Undergraduate subjects in the world. They don’t know who wrote them, where their from or anything about the student. It is marked on the work alone.

I now have art in Ireland, England, Germany, Estonian, Lithuanian, New Zealand, Canada and America in private and commercial collections. And have exhibited in Ireland, Brittany in France and America. I have been interviewed many times about being a dyslexic artist and my art from different groups from all over the world. At the moment I still have to have a day job and work in the manufacturing of furniture. But I still create art in the evenings and weekends. Hoping to make the big time in the Art world. I sign my art with Jim, as I want the art to stand by itself. I want the viewer to enjoy the piece. Not look at it and say this is dyslexic art.

Jim Mc Carthy - A dyslexic visual artist's story

My advice that I always say and have been remembered for saying is ‘never give up and never give in’. Keep going! We have to work harder that other people at  Reading, writing, maths and other things. We are holistic thinkers and it is a liner thinking world. But don’t let that stop you.

It doesn’t matter what type of background you come from. We are the same, we are one. We are dyslexic. Find something that you enjoy, where you escape to. This could be your path in life. Art has always been my solas my place. Other dyslexic people became creators, actors, engineers, councilors, vets, doctors. Never give up. Everyday is a challenge, we learn from mistakes. So let’s make lots of mistakes.

I went public with my art and dyslexia, not everyone will want to go public. And I totally understand, I spent years hiding and running away from it. But once I took ownership of who I was. Once I followed my dream and got the courage to take that long and lonely walk to the disability office. My life changed.

My life story is in every brush mark that I make. It’s in everything that I create. I try not to worry about what others may think of me. I find in doing so, it holds me back. Finding the technology that works for me has opened up a new world. I still take ages to read, but lately I have started to listen to Audio books. I also use YouTube to get the information that I need. I can visualise and understand by seeing how things are done, rather than reading. You will find different ways of getting through. We all do!. You can view my art on: visualartistjim.wordpress.com or on instragram.com/visualartistjim and also on www.facebook.com/FineArtByJim

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