(Fort Lauderdale is full of fascinating men of accomplishment. This is the third in a series of profiles I have written for the South Florida Gay News.)
Dermot Meagher does not make small talk, and when he looks at you, there is nowhere to hide. I learned this on Monday, March 1, at the Stonewall Library and Archive where an exhibit of his drawings was unveiled. Dermot is also a print maker, and also a retired Massachusetts judge who was a founding member of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association. He is also a writer of short stories and gay mystery novels. He could also have had a convincing career as a Hemingway impersonator in Key West, but his imposing exterior quickly gives way to the warm-hearted man who graciously welcomed me into his Fort Lauderdale home and encouraged my questions.
While we were talking, his partner came into the room to say hello. I had been told that his name was Renato and that he was a very handsome Italian. Both of these things are true. The men have been together for nine years, sharing homes in both Fort Lauderdale and Provincetown. When I asked Dermot why they had not availed themselves of marriage in a state where it is legal, he replied "I think gay marriage is great. We just haven't gotten around to it yet." While Renato returned to his work as a software developer, Dermot and I talked about artistic process.
Dermot studied art in Massachusetts and first exhibited his work in Provincetown in 1999. In 2001, his work was selected for the Provincetown Art Association's Emerging Artists Show. Since 2003, he has been represented by The Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown and has shown there each year since. In September of 2009, he showed a collection of his "white line woodblock prints" at the Schoolhouse Gallery. A few examples of this type of print are included in his Stonewall Library show. He explained their history and method.
"White line woodcuts are distinctly Provincetown where they were introduced in 1915. In traditional block printing, many blocks are made, one for each color. In this method, you use just one wooden block for each picture. The block is made preferably of soft wood. You apply watercolor to each section. You attach the paper to one side of the block and fold it over the wet paint. You then rub the back of the paper with a silver spoon."
Jokingly, I suggested that perhaps a stainless steel spoon might work just as well.
"Actually not. Supposedly anything but silver will discolor the paper. Anyway, the white lines are where you have made your cuts. I like the speed and simplicity of the process."
I asked Dermot about his pen and ink drawings.
They comprised most of the show at the Stonewall Library. He told me that he is a "plein air" painter, indicating that he will bring his notebook and paints and brushes with him on excursions to the beach. I offered that, in my limited experience as a plein air painter, I am often unnerved by spectators who give commentary or simply watch over my shoulder. I wondered if Dermot was similarly bothered.
"I like to make those paintings while I am on the beach at Haulover. Because I am sitting under an umbrella and able to draw without calling attention to myself, I can capture candid images of people around me. Usually they are not aware that I am drawing them.
"I draw fast and use whatever is within arm's reach to make a mark - pen and ink, pencil, tar, tea, coffee, charcoal, water color, oil pastels, Sumi ink with a brush, and sometimes mud with my fingers. I try not to ask too many questions of myself except what mark to make next."
Dermot's drawings were described as "haiku like and serene" by the Boston Globe, although he claims to have no idea where such tranquility comes from. While I can feel the tranquility when I look at his drawings, I am more impressed by the way his cool black lines and gray wash on chilly white paper convey the heavy heat and sun-drenching of the Florida beach. They make me reach for my Ray-bans.
I wondered how he had progressed from being a lawyer and a judge to becoming an artist.
"Well, I lost sight in one eye as the result of an accident. Because of the nature of that accident, there is the possibility that I may someday lose sight in my other eye as well. I thought I ought to use it while I still have it."
I asked him about life as a retiree.
"I stopped working as a judge three years ago, but I already had some projects underway at the time of my retirement. I've got two mystery novels. One of them sold twice. In both cases, the publisher went out of business before the book was published. They are set in Boston and the central character is someone named Lyons. I've got him in Lyons at the Gate and Lyons and Tigers and Bears."
A collection of Dermot's short stories called Judge Sentences will be published in the autumn of 2010 by UPNE (University Presses of New England). Five of these stories have already been published in Boston Magazine and six others in Doubletake.
The Exhibition Dermot Meagher: Drawings and Woodcuts will be at the Stonewall Library and Archives, 1300 East Sunrise Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, March 1 -31. For more information, please visit Stonewall Library and Archives.