Markey Robinson was born in Belfast in 1918. The son of a house painter, he attended Perth Street Public Elementary School, studied for a time at the Belfast College of Art, and visited Paris on a number of occasions. He drew upon his extensive experiences for the diversity of subjects and ideas which he portrayed throughout his life.
While the art establishment of the 1960s and 1970s ignored him, art dealer Oliver Nulty tirelessly financed exhibitions and publications, slowly building up a reputation, which began to soar in the 1980s and 1990s.
Markey was a primitive painter, a colourful character, a man of great complexity; are all descriptions that have characterized Markey over the years.
Markey’s landscape is probably the work for which he is best known. It is an area which he has worked on as consistently as that of still-life, clown, and figure studies. Like all of the Figurists, Markey paints from memory and mind. It is interesting to note Markey’s change of palette in relation to the different places he is painting. His Irish landscape is cold, damp and misty, reflected in colours of grey, blue, green and white. His Spanish scenes are executed in vivid, hot and vibrating colours of red, orange, electric blue, pink, and yellow. Like George Campbell, who used varying palettes for his Irish and Spanish works, so Markey brings about an atmosphere through the use of colour and tone.
His greatest works – expressionist-influenced landscape, heavily-outlined clowns, still-lives and erotica – place him in the first division of Irish twentieth-century art. With his genius for composition, his utter originality of mood and humour, and his gift for brooding atmospherics, he is even regarded by some as a rival in importance to such established figures as Yeats, Henry and le Brocquy.
Markey died early in January 1999, following a sixty-year career. His life as a merchant seaman freed him from the parochialism of his Northern Irish contemporaries. He was acquainted first hand with members of the School of Paris, and many strands of European modernism, particularly Cubism and Expressionism.