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Dave O’Shea knows the exact moment he fell in love. It was in the early years of his career in the military when he and some army mates took themselves to Russia on leave.

“We were a bunch of pimply young pups. Somewhere on the tour our lot was introduced to a group of Swedish girls. When the organiser arranged for us to join their group for an excursion we couldn’t believe the luck. We’d none of us ever seen let alone spoken to girls that beautiful. But the outing fell on our last day in Saint Petersburg, and I was determined to go to the Hermitage Museum; it was the one thing I’d absolutely wanted to see in Russia, so off I went by myself. All I remember is that I walked through the magnificent main entrance and turned left. I found myself in an enormous room covered floor to ceiling with 5000 years of monumental art and history. It eclipsed all thoughts of the Swedish girls.”

What had been boyish infatuation, ignited into the love that lasts a lifetime.

"I couldn’t tell you the name of the room or the works I saw but that was the day I fell completely in love with art.” We’re speaking at the Chimera Gallery in Mullingar, a town in the Irish midlands that’s often brushed off as a nondescript place you have to pass en route to somewhere interesting. The gallery’s existence above a restaurant on the main street is announced by a modest sign in the fogged up window. I’m there at midday. The eatery is firing on all cylinders with the Friday lunch service. I slip through the door, duck under the roped-off stairs to the gallery and freeze in my tracks as a server shouts, “Hey. Hey! Gallery’s shut.” A voice from above calls her off, “It’s alright I’m expecting her.” On I go up the curved wooden staircase to emerge into a wide space that takes up the entire first floor.

“Hello, you’ve just met my security guard,” says Dave O’Shea, owner and gallerist. The Chimera Gallery is altogether unexpected. It is surprisingly large, and shows a breadth of artistic works that belies its unpretentious setting. Dave has earned his art stripes since he curated his first exhibition for the artist Hazel Revington-Cross in 2009. That was followed by pop ups in local hotels, and quickly evolved into a small co-owned space, until in 2014 the Chimera Gallery opened as his fully-fledged gallery. Named for the mythical beast composed of several different creatures, the name also suggests a dream that is very unlikely to come true, which speaks to Dave’s improbable journey into the art world.

“I can’t tell you where my interest in art comes from. It certainly it wasn’t something we had in the house in Limerick growing up, although I always had a thing about drawing owls… But seriously, I think that recognition, that spark, is something you’re born with. Education, or the lack of it, does the rest either way.”

For the boy who drew owls, it was the latter. He set off to a solid job in the military but his interest in galleries and exhibitions was always there, a refrigerator hum in the background of his life. “I started buying small originals, learned more as I went along and developed my taste and eye.” By the time he retired from the army in 2008 he had a collection worthy of the title. “I’d say I’m a fairly serious collector. I’m very private about it, but let’s just say it’s a decent collection that has some well-known Irish and international names.”

A decade on, the gallery represents a past and present list of artists that includes a cohort of young artists as well as some international names like Khara Oxier, who now sits on the prestigious walls of the Georges Berges Gallery. A number of these had their early start up the art ladder at the Chimera Gallery, notably Lesley Oldakre, Shane Berkery, as well as Tom McLean and more recently Riley Waite.

Dave O'Shea (Website) by Bev Tucker

Main image : Paulo Borile, Chimera Gallery.

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