When people are described as being ‘passionate about art’, more often than not, what’s meant is that they have an ‘interest in art’. However, there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who knew Michael Carroll that his passion for art was deep and consuming. He was a voracious collector, always on the lookout for new pieces, but within the constraints of a modest budget. The walls of his and his wife Ita’s Dalkey home were hung salon style, the walls tightly packed to accommodate the works acquired slowly over decades. But without the resources of the well-known ‘big guns’ who competed for trophy pieces, the Carrolls remained under the radar.
Michael acquired art, lots of it, but he was equally fascinated by artists, getting to know them and trying to better understand the way they thought. A career banker with AIB, two lifelong friendships were instrumental in stimulating his early interest in Irish art: the painters Cecil King and Tony O’Malley. King shared digs with Carroll in the 1940s when they were both in Dundalk, King working in the printing industry and Carroll starting out in the bank. Later on, Carroll forged a friendship with Tony O’Malley, who also worked in the bank. Because Michael had such high personal regard for these two men, who both turned away from the world of business to become artists, he wanted to learn to understand and appreciate what they made. King was especially influential in opening his eyes to abstraction. Michael, who had a philosophical bent, liked nothing more than talking to them and to a growing number of other artist friends about the nature of their own practice and the creative impulse. He wanted to find out what makes artists tick—what separates them from the rest of us.
Having had another world opened up to him through art, Michael had a kind of missionary zeal when it came to spreading the word. He was one of the executives in AIB who initially promoted the idea that people who worked in the bank should be able to enjoy art in the workplace. I first met him late in 1979 when I was taken on to advise the bank on putting together their art collection. From then until his retirement we worked together very closely, and I valued the spirited discussions we had on the merits of this or that possible acquisition.
A look at his own personal collection shows how Michael was open to any genre, looking for gems in any style or medium. He had personal favourites, Leech being an example, and was also drawn to the work of artists he knew personally. Each and every piece gave him enormous pleasure and I can recall his excitement when something new arrived. He was brimming with enthusiasm when he got the stunning William Scott (with the small green fruit) and I was with him the day he bought the delicious Souter from the estate of Basil Goulding. One can only hope that prospective buyers will match his passion—these much loved pieces came from a ‘good home’ and they deserve another.
Frances Ruane, February 2017Posted in