When documentary maker Mike Andrews met artist Ciarán McCoy – also known as Pigsy – for the first time in Nick’s Coffee Shop in Ranelagh in 2017, he figured he’d be there for maybe 30 minutes. They had arranged to meet after Andrews contacted Pigsy to say he wanted to do a short documentary piece on him and his work as an artist. This quick coffee was an opportunity for them to talk over his idea. A 30-minute meeting turned into two hours. From that moment on, “there was just a bit of a bond between us,” says Andrews.
Two years later and the resulting short documentary, Pigsy, has just been released to the public on Vimeo after doing the rounds in festivals in Ireland and the UK, including a debut at the Galway Film Fleadh and two separate showings at IndieCork. In just 8 minutes, this short invites us inside the mind of an artist who, for his entire life, struggled with severe dyslexia. An architect by trade, Pigsy’s work as an artist pushes the boundaries of his architectural world and embraces messiness, errors and mistakes.
As a child he found himself kicked out of class and held back in school, left alone to deal with the frustration of being unable to make sense of the words in front of him. His art is a release from the rules of language and allows him to express himself in ways that words won’t allow. This results in work that might seem chaotic and unruly to us, but for Pigsy is the one true form of self-expression.
“I’ve always been really interested in telling stories in some form or fashion,” says Andrews. Pigsy felt different to anything he had made in the past, though, because this one was more personal. “What drew me to Pigsy was the fact that he was so open about his dyslexia.
“I also have dyslexia but I’ve never shared it with anyone because I’m kind of ashamed of it.” Finding someone who not only understood what it was like to be dyslexic, but who was willing to share that experience through his artwork, was intriguing for Andrews. He felt like he could open up about his own experience, and this is also what drew Pigsy into the idea of the documentary – seeing what a dyslexic filmmaker would make of his dyslexic artwork. “It was all very dyslexic,” he laughs.
The film depicts Pigsy at work at his canvas in a city laneway or on the floor of his studio. His paintings are a clash of colour, striking imagery, letters and words. He uses paint, chalk, spray paint – whatever is available to him. Words feature heavily in his work, but they follow different rules to the ones we’re used to. They can be misspelled, deconstructed, crossed out and painted over. The documentary takes us on a journey with the artist, from blank canvas to finished piece, and invites us inside an artistic process that feels deeply personal.
“The filming process was so light, because I just felt like I was hanging out with a friend,” says Andrews.
He faced two challenges with this film: no budget and no funding. The crew consisted of two people – Andrews as the director (doing all of the camerawork, sound, and lighting himself) and editor Stephanie Sammann. Although there were times when he could have used an extra pair of hands to help with the filming, ultimately Andrews saw these limitations as an advantage. “I think there was a sense of intimacy between myself and Pigsy, and because it was just me, I think he was way more open with me.” That being said he was glad to have someone at the end of the process to help him make sense of the footage. “The talents of Stephanie were very much appreciated, and I think she made the whole thing better.”
Although he had hoped to get the short documentary into at least one festival, he never thought it was going to make it into the likes of the Galway Film Fleadh or IndieCork. “It’s just something that I never ever would have imagined, because I didn’t think I was capable of reaching that standard.” He can still remember the day he received the email informing him Pigsy had been accepted into the 30th Annual Galway Film Fleadh. “I was just completely shocked,” he said. “For it to be shoulder to shoulder with such exceptional documentaries in these festivals was such a high-class honour as well.”
The entire process was personally transformative for Andrews. It not only showed him what he was capable of, it helped him gain a new perspective on his dyslexia.
“The message really, of the documentary, is that your so-called weaknesses can also be your strengths.”