Myra McWethy

Paul Pattison passed away in April of 2015. this was an article I wrote about him - his last interview:

Myra Williams McWethy

Creative Thinking #602

March 7, 2015

University of Massachusetts - Boston

As I write this, I have a houseguest. I met him in the summer of 2007 (or 2008, I forget), when

my then houseguest got ill and had to go to the emergency room. There, at St. John’s Hospital in

Santa Monica, we met a young man on vacation in California, quite ill, and sitting by himself in the

waiting room. (His friends had just left, after knowing he was safe) I knew from experience with my

own mother that this fellow had just suffered a grand-mal epileptic seizure. Long story short, my

then houseguest was admitted to the hospital, and the young man, a Mr. Paul Pattison from

Limerick, Ireland, ended up staying with my family for the next three nights. And since that time,

he has returned to the United States every year or so, and spent time with us.

Now, fellow classmates, Paul Pattison is not just an epileptic, but he is one of the most unique,

most unsolvable, cases of epilepsy not just in Ireland, but pretty much the world. He has had four

brain surgeries, and later this year, he will have two more. He has horrible, violent seizures,

sometimes twice in one day, sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month. Right now he

has three staples in his head from his two back-to-back episodes this Thursday night when he

cracked his head falling to the pavement. Paul

comes to America whenever he can because in

Venice Beach, he can pretend to be normal for

the three months stretches he spends in

Southern California. In his hometown, and in fact

in his country, he is well-known and walks heavy

with his personal history. Here, at a pub, on the

street, he can meet new people who don’t know

his past, and treat him as a cool, charming dude

with a wicked sense of humor, and a rough,

roguish Irish accent. And the fact he doesn’t

have a car fits in well with the surfer-dudes and

creative sorts who hang on the boardwalk.

And --- he is an amazing artist.

First, you should see his last piece of art (a

print that sells for 500 English pounds).

The print to the right is called “Channel,

because it is a representation of him channeling

the anguish in his brain.


Go to the website linked below for photos of Channel and other prints... 


So I used the 8 questions starting on Page 11

of our “Creators on Creating” book, to see how

he would respond. Over the course of 4 hours

(the most he could handle was 20 minutes at a

time) I interviewed him, to see what his

responses would be compared to the ones

found in our text. Here are the results:

1. Is a high IQ necessary?

“Hell, my brain is so screwed up. I’ve never felt special or smart. I’ve got seizures and I am an

artist. That’s all I know.”

2. Are there some motives for your creativity?

“I drew before the seizures started at age at age 13. So the ability was in me before my brain

went haywire. But everybody thought I was nuts, because between 13 and 18, my condition went

undiagnosed. I went into myself, with anger, with art. The printing I’ve done since my big

operation in Dublin a year ago has been carving in Linoleum, and then rolling the paint. I’ve done

this before, but now it feels right, tight. The carving is a physical experience (as opposed to oil

painting which is more about technique). I feel the power when I carve, I feel the simplicity of the

black and white.

3. Is your creativity inherited?

“No. Nobody in my family. My dad’s a retired banker, his brother is a Catholic Monsignor, and

his other brother was the Speaker of the House in the Irish Parliament. No, I think I’m the only

one. Maybe somebody way back? Who knows.”

4. Are creative people more unstable mentally?

“I’m not mentally unstable, but my brain is unstable, and I have all the junk that goes along with

that. Somedays I’m too depressed to function. Other days I feel stronger, in control. But I was a

regular kid. I just know that when I can do my art, it’s a way to channel my truth, as I am now.”

5. Are there gender differences in creativity?

“F--k if I know.”

6. Is creativity related to age?

“I think I can paint people and their relationships better now than when I was younger because

I have more insight into life. One of my favorite paintings is called “In Bed.” A man and a women

are in bed, and her upturned face is just what the man wants: happy, ready, aroused. But the half

of her face towards the mattress tells a different story. That eye is looking directly at the viewer,

compliant, unhappy, unfulfilled. The man is oblivious to this, kissing her curves. The bedspread

has a pattern of hearts and knives, the wallpaper is faded roses, and the shade pulled down is

dark. The candle on the bed table casts a shadow, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. I couldn’t

have painted that when I was 20.”

7. Why does creative potential sometimes go to waste, or go unused?

“I can’t answer for others. Somedays are just not doable. One year, in my mid-20’s I was on a

great creative bender. Other times, I can go for a year without painting. I can usually muster the

strength when I have a commission - especially for a friend, but most times my energy, my

depression, and recovery from surgery or a seizure make it impossible to work. I can’t really plan

out my work because of my condition. But I don’t think that is my style anyway. I paint from the

heart, from where I am at that day. With the print, “Channel,” I mapped out the face with care, but

then I went wild with the deep lines, letting my hands tell the story of my truth. Both the part I did

with care, and the part I did with crazy power- well they were right for the work, and they were

right for my process.

8. Is a unhappy environment more likely to produce creativity?

“I was regular happy, but shy, as a kid and I produced art, but now it is different. I have parents

who are great. I have a good family, here and in Ireland. I have friends. I know I’m loved. I am not

alone. But since I was 13, I have mostly had the unhappy environment in my head. I can’t control

it. I’ve had a pacemaker put in my brain, and that couldn’t control it either. But my physical

experiences have helped me create my unique technique, my artistic voice. The forms my art

takes are an extension of my self. When I am beat down, when my brain seems separate from

me, I can express my negative feelings, and I can channel my truth. It’s like boxing. All in.

Suddenly it’s not my epileptic brain working, but my brain, in a zone, separate. Sometime the zone

lasts 4-6 hours. But that’s about max for a day, then I have to rest. I feel beat down sometimes,

but when I can do my art, I’m occupied, and I can express the negative. When I’m done, I’m

proud, I smile. I know it’s original. But in public, when my work is for sale, I have a tendency not to

trust my taste. I keep to myself.

I spent four years in art school in Limerick which was okay. There are painting communities,

villages, in Limerick and Dublin now, but I only meet with those folks rarely. It’s just not for me.

And then with my showing in London last fall, they kinda pimped me as the epileptic artist. I really

thought they might have shown a clip from the movie The Shining and photo-shopped in my head.

They gotta make their money, and my epilepsy is a good sales gimmick, but I slipped out of the

gallery. My art has to stand on its own in the end.

My favorite print is called “Old Drunk Punk.” It’s this fat guy who is a kinda blend of all the sorts

who hang out at Mickey Martin’s Bar where I go twice a week in Limerick. He’s, ya know... the kind

of guy who is waiting for the Sex Pistols to come out with another hit song. I was tempted to put a

red sweater on him, but I didn’t. Just black and white. It was just right. Yeah, I liked that one.”

Oh, I can’t remember the name of the print you have below. My brain is kinda fried right now...”

Paul Pattison

Saturday, March 7, 2015 San Diego, CA




As I interviewed Paul, he was sitting in our green lounge chair, looking out to the west from 1,000 feet

above sea level, with a view from Mexico to Long Beach, about 125 miles, on a cloudless late afternoon.

Epilogue: So, what did I learn from all of this? That though the answers in the book were great, they were not the full

story. I needed to ask someone his truth, and really listen to his answers. Paul is no wilting flower. He is a strong man

who is a frustrated captive of the wonder, awe, and horrors of a brain that can’t behave, and a soul that has to share.

I think we all should remember that no matter how much we read, how much we study... we need to get out there

and talk, listen, peek under the layers. Creativity is an awesome, powerful, magical source in the world, and it is as

powerful a narrative coming from the famous or the test trial subjects as it is from the everyday creative soldier, who

fights to bring the solitude of their soul to -- quietly or boldly -- share with an audience. I learned so much today from

my friend, now lying inside on my family room couch, unable to answer any more questions - even simple ones - from

the strain of doing the above interview. In a couple of hours, though, he will get up and meet with his mate at a

concert...because his heart, soul, and zest for life will not be constrained by the faulty wiring in his head. MWM