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Epiphanic Moments in Art Galleries

Irish News October 2000

Until, whistlers, xylophonists, yodellers and zither players take part in the Festival, alphabetically the Visual Arts will always be found on the last pages of the Brochure. Many people think that this truly reflects the Festival Organizers’ interest or lack of interest in the Visual Arts. We are told that this year’s festival is presenting “a major celebration of Spanish and Catalan Culture”. Many galleries and art groups might have been happy to accommodate this theme had they been invited to do so at the Festival’s planning stage. Nevertheless the city’s galleries, studios and workshops do benefit from the free publicity the Festival Brochure accords them and as a result, an extra effort is always put into their “Festival” shows. Belfast’s remarkably, lively visual arts’ world is surprisingly inept at self promotion. The eighteen Art exhibitions listed in this year’s brochure only partially reflect the vibrant work going on in the city.
Since I live in the Cavehill Gallery I looked at its exhibition first;
There used to be a local art critic who regularly gave his wife’s art work Glowing reviews; she worked under her maiden name of course so the nepotism went largely unnoticed. He even extolled the virtues of her work when reviewing exhibitions in which she wasn’t a participant. Jackie Crooks, who isn’t my wife, is exhibiting with Catherine Mc Williams, who is my wife, at the Cavehill Gallery, which is our gallery. The art world is so fraught with hidden agendas that I thought it better to spell this out before I speak positively about this particular exhibition.
Jackie Crooks, visits in her paintings the Sperrin Mountains of her youth; gently, mountainous landscapes, freely painted, suggesting hidden plough-marks and tracings of a farming past.
Mountains also dominate Catherine Mc Williams’ paintings; The Black Mountain, The Cooley Mountains, Benevenagh, Ben Bulben all boldly textured and expressively painted. An exhibition worth seeing. Am I biased? Of course I am.
At The Bell Gallery Hector Mc Donnell, according to the brochure, “discovers Ballycastle”; but New York and Paris also figure in this collection of paintings. I would like to see Hector’s undoubted painting skills exercise more control over his undoubted graphic skills; when they do merge the work is excellent, producing some lovely little, painterly interiors.
At the QUB Senior Common Room the splendid printmaker, Jim Allen shows some masterly images of the sea.
The Festival publicity can be an important tool in the promotion of young art. Each year the artists’ studios and workshops gain some attention from the public. It is important that occasionally the public is made aware of, not only the work of the young artists, but also their working conditions. The Queen Street Studios give the public this opportunity during their annual open days. Twenty-three artists will be exhibiting, demonstrating and discussing their work.
Paintings by Brendan Megarity and Nicola Robinson reproduced in the Festival Brochure encouraged me to make my first visit to the Workshops Collective in Lawrence Street. I’m glad I did. Nicola’s cheerful paintings reveal an innate colour sense which contrast with the more sombre colours in Megarity’s nudes and Grecian landscapes.
As I left the Workshops I thought that the age-old cliché; “struggling young artists” still applies when one compares them to their peers in the professions or industry. It was still in my thoughts when I entered the upper gallery in the Ormeau Baths. Canadian Stan Douglas may or may not be young but he is certainly not struggling unless it is to suppress a smile at our generosity. We have invited him and his assistant over from Canada, re-carpeted the entire gallery and soundproofed the walls for his video installation Nu-tka. Two un-synchronized images of the same landscape are projected on to a screen, from a quadraphonic soundtrack two different voices are speaking at the same time. The Video images merge and become one uninteresting landscape. At that very moment, the voices, once a meaningless cacophony are now saying something or other.
I went downstairs to see Adam Chodzko’s two screen installation. On one screen a rain-soaked forest is filmed at night using a “nightvision camera”. Fuzzy figures are seen foraging about in the undergrowth for 15 minutes. These are lighting technicians who, for some harebrained reason have been commissioned to illuminate a corner of the woodland.
The incoherent voiceovers reinforced the Monty Pythonesque quality of the film. I steeled my nerves and patience to see the outcome of this project on the second screen. Suddenly Wow! There it was; a floodlit tree in a wood. What epiphanies these installation artists create for us. It is good to know that our money is being carefully spent on the Visual Arts.

Joseph Mc Williams October 2000©