Motoring art: John Doherty

| 15 Mar 2024
Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Doherty

Road trips have inspired some remarkable art, be it painting, prose, music or photography, and since childhood John Doherty has been captivated by journeys across Ireland.

From colourful shopfronts to deserted petrol stations, these remote locations have inspired a series of paintings that record the changing character of the Emerald Isle.

“During my childhood in the 1950s and ’60s, our family would often travel around Ireland,” says John.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Doherty

Irish artist John Doherty became interested in old petrol pumps while touring his home country

“There were no motorways then, and journeys were long,” he continues.

En route to Wicklow or Kilkenny to visit relatives, or holiday trips to West Cork, I was always enchanted by the little towns and the petrol stations we stopped at along the way.

“Clifden in County Galway was always a favourite destination.”

John’s father was an engineer who served with Field Marshal Montgomery in the Eighth Army in North Africa, and he was always fascinated by vehicles.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Doherty

John Doherty captured this Wexford gift shop with stunning realism

“My first memories of those family trips started with sitting in the back of our Commer van,” John continues.

“Later came a Rover, various Fords and then a Citroën DS that had such a comfortable ride.

“As a boy, I loved drawing birds and vehicles. The shapes of German racing cars really interested me.”

The young boy’s parents were impressed by his drawing talent, but they were terrified when John started talking about becoming an artist.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Doherty

A Morris Minor in Castletownbere, County Cork, depicted in Winter Callout by John Doherty

“Dad pushed me into architecture,” he recalls.

“After qualifying, I moved across to Australia to work but soon realised painting was in my blood and gave up design.

“Working a few nights gave me enough funds to focus on art for the rest of the week.

“I’ve always been a realist: for me, the intensity of style and detail draws you into a subject.

“My artistic heroes were Giorgios Morandi and de Chirico.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Doherty

Ageing petrol pumps are a particular draw, as this piece, Loitering on the High Street, attests

Working with acrylic paints on board, John’s remarkable style comes via an intense process, with some paintings, such as Whelan’s Seaside Gift Shop, taking up to 18 months to complete: “I work for three hours each day over a period of six weeks.

“Some canvases can become very claustrophobic so I turn them against the wall for therapy.

“When I turn them back I see mistakes, so it’s a continuing process.”

Journeys around Australia and south-east Asia influenced John’s early work, but it was a return to Ireland in the 1970s, to show his new wife around, that stirred ideas of documenting his home country.

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Doherty

Connolly’s in Skibbereen reveals John’s attention to detail

Initially marine subjects were the focus, with a dramatic series of lighthouse paintings, but while driving to locations he became intrigued by old petrol pumps.

“We found some absolute beauties with colourful globes,” he says.

“To me they looked like iconic totems. In villages a single pump was set alone on the pavement, but in bigger towns different sizes were grouped together.

“Little details such as cigarette butts around the pump amused me, but today these local stations are vanishing.”

Classic & Sports Car – Motoring art: John Doherty

This artwork by John Doherty captures perfectly the predilection for Irish pubs to indulge in unusual and eye-catching window dressing

John’s most recent collection, entitled Time flies and life is short, focuses on colourful shopfronts and local bars discovered during road trips.

“I don’t like to tinker with the location,” he notes.

“It has to be as you see it. Irish pubs are famous for putting the weirdest things in the window.”

For more, see


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