Mayor of Castell de Ferro, Toñi Antequera with Alan Wilkinson and the portrait. / SUR

From a mystery scholarship to VIP commissions

Alan Wilkinson has been able to get back to painting since retiring to Spain after a 40-year career in the property sector in London


Dublin-born artist Alan Wilkinson has lived just outside Castell de Ferro, near the coast in Granada province, for over 20 years. He lives with his wife of 36 years, Carol, and their three Spanish mastiffs as well as an assortment of cats.

The couple have a relationship with Spain that goes back further, having owned an apartment on the Costa del Sol where they came regularly on holiday before deciding to make the move when Alan retired.

Alan spends his time painting and has had a number of exhibitions locally in the years that he's lived here. In fact, he has painted the portraits of two different mayors in the village and has just completed the most recent – of the incumbent Toñi Antequera.

Alan explains that Antequera had been to visit an exhibition that he had on at the town hall and someone from the mayoral office contacted him afterwards to ask if he would paint her portrait.

"It was a complete surprise for her. She had no idea I'd been asked to do the painting," Alan explains. He took photographs of her under the premise that the shoot was for something else and then surprised her with the portrait. "She was very happy with it and I'm told it's now hanging up in her office," Alan says.

In 2014, Alan was commissioned to do a portrait for the then mayor Eloy Martín Cabrera. The artist says that when Martín Cabrera left the post, he took the painting with him.

Art scholarship

Alan, who is 81, has always been a talented artist. In fact he tells the story of his parents receiving, completely out of the blue, a letter with the details of a full scholarship to attend what is now known as the National College of Art in Dublin.

To this day he says he has "absolutely no idea" who recommended him. "This was 1950s Ireland. Life was tough and a career as an artist wasn't encouraged," he points out.

Although he was born in Dublin, during the war he recalls that he was sent to live on the country's west coast in a cottage with "no running water, where I had a three-mile walk to get to school. I went bare foot".

His early years are in stark contrast to life at the college in Dublin, which Alan explains is on Kildaire Street in the capital and forms part of the government buildings housed in "beautiful baroque architecture".

Alan accepted the scholarship and says that he "thrived" at art college, no less because he likes being different and has "been different" all his life.

While at college Alan discovered another talent – as a drummer – and even lays claim to starting the first Trad Jazz band in Ireland while he was still a student.

Playing the drums was something that Alan continued to do, performing with rock bands in 1960s London, having moved there in '61.

The art was left on the back burner during a hugely successful 40-year career working in advertising and marketing in the property sector in Kensington, London. He frequently rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, including a number of royals.

A return to art

It was when Alan retired and came in Spain in 1998 that he was able to go back to his painting. He paints in a variety of media, including oils, pastels and watercolour and does portraits and landscapes. "I really wanted to get stuck in to the painting," he admits.

Alan's landscapes are, of course, of local places in Spain but he also frequently returns to Ireland (or at least did pre-pandemic) where he loves to paint views of his beloved west coast.

His portraits include a diverse mix to celebrities, from Amy Winehouse to John Wayne, and then people closer to him like his wife and in-laws. The dogs even feature in some of Alan's work.

Alan has a studio in an outbuilding of the cortijo where he and Carol live and he is planning to open it up as a gallery for members of the public to visit soon.

When he's not painting, Alan says he is kept busy with the property as well as their various animals.