On January 22nd, 1973, the painter John Wade died, the victim of a motoring accident. He was thirty-one years of age. His unexpected death came as a great shock to many, most obviously to his family and many friends. And there were also those who knew the man only slightly, or not at all, who felt that contemporary Irish Art had lost something unique and, perhaps, irreplaceable.
John Wade's background had been a humble one. Comparative poverty had been one of those constants which was to remain with him throughout his life. His lifestyle was generally unremarkable. He was married, with two children, and earned his living during the period immediately preceding his death as a part-time teacher in a vocational school. Yet the press has spoken of a 'major new talent', and the term 'genius' has been bandied about in connection with his name. His work has won prestigious awards and the Arts Council have bought one of his larger canvases. The sheer quantity of his paintings was also impressive - John Wade had certainly been a hard worker. Not that he had been a recluse; he could 'take a jar' and sing a ballad with the best of them. He could also argue with the best of them - about art, of course, but also his other consuming passion - politics. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that, with his death, the seeds of legend began to germinate.
The present writer makes no claim to put the record straight in the course of this essay. It is hoped nevertheless to avoid some of the worst consequences of mythmaking - over-simplification (making the subject of the myth merely the object of projected wish-fulfillment, for instance). John Wade's own integrity deserves better. So too, his talent as a painter deserves more than this brief work which, at best, may serve as a sort of signpost to his paintings. Books are cheap, easily produced and readily disseminated. The same may not be said of paintings, and this is particularly true, when, as in the case of John Wade's work, very few are on public display.
John Wade (he became 'Jonathan' only in the late 60's) was born in 1941, the eldest son of Tommy and Sarah Wade. The family lived in Thomas Street, so John spent his earliest years in that area of old Dublin dominated by Guinness's brewery. This early environment seems to have left a very deep impression, for here we may find one of the chief sources of the imagery which was later to preoccupy him as a painter. Tommy Wade's trade - he was a slaughterhouse man - also seems to have influenced his son.