Mr Ulster buys a painting

Mr Ulster buys a painting
30 November 2017

For my 50th birthday, I wanted a special gift, something that I would always attribute to that milestone event. I have long appreciated visual arts; I even took a few art history modules at university. I dabbled with drawing, which I enjoyed, but quickly realised that getting competent in oils is a whole different matter. My father was an artist — well at least he earned a Master of Fine Arts at California State University Fullerton and produced a few items. (For my birthday, my mother kindly gifted me one of his pieces of sculpture.)

Over the years I’ve admired countless masterpieces and items of contemporary art, wondering if I’d ever be able to afford owning one myself. Framed prints have served as a substitute, and I’ve always been happy displaying them. This includes a large ‘live drawing’ by Brian John Spencer, done during a talk that my wife, Beverley, and I gave at TEDxStormont in 2014.

I’ve known Brian since he was a recent graduate of the law school at Queen’s University Belfast. He came into my office with an interest in drawing political cartoons. That proposal didn’t quite match our needs, but I remain grateful for having this introduction of an artist as a young man.

And I’ve enjoyed watching Brian evolve and mature as an artist.

Everyone enjoys his happy demeanor, and he appears to have found a satisfactory balance between working for commission and the pursuit of art as a lifestyle.

I regretted not being able to attend his first solo exhibition earlier this year, but made sure to make it for his current one, “Home is where the art is”, at Canvas Gallery, Stranmillis Road, Belfast.

At the reception event, I immediately complimented him on his snazzy dark navy with red flower blazar; this dandy sartorial choice entirely compatible with hipster sensibilities.

Brian explained the inspirations for “Home is where the art is” as emanating from his “32 counties in 32 days” grand tour of the island as well as the story of Seán Keating, who documented the Irish war of independence.

On one side of the gallery were a selection of original paintings he made for a series of prints that hung on the other side.

The prints are clearly in the style of Ulster Transport Authority and others’ efforts to promote tourism in the province of Ulster — an updated version, refreshed with new sites, such as the Titanic building and the Peace Bridge in Derry-Londonderry.

One of the paintings particularly caught my eye: the Stormont Estate. Beyond admiring Brian’s rendition of Parliament Buildings on top of the hill, with billowing clouds passing overhead, this image is one that I am familiar with, as it is from the perspective of the car park where I walked from when I worked here.

The longer I admired this painting, the more I knew that I would cherish it. I had to own it.

I returned to Brian and told him that this would be my first ever purchase of an original painting. After explaining to him why so, he showed me some “en plein air” photographs that he took of himself painting this image, as well as several others. “I know that tree!” I replied.

En plein air

After making payment, I asked the exhibition hostess, Meghan Downey (an artist in her own right; see her selected piece at the RUAS exhibition at Ulster Museum), if she’d take a photo of patron and artist. She kindly obliged.

The patron and the artist

I was buzzing with excitement, which Mark Neale generously let me share with him. Mark also worked at Parliament Buildings, and we both reviewed the painting’s beauty and significance for both of us. Mark teased that he only wish it was an official flag day when Brian painted the image.

Considering the journey that I have made to relocate and settle in Northern Ireland — a place I call home — and to do my wee bit to encourage political and social progress here, I find it most fitting that my first proper art acquisition is of a place where many have tried to make peace work.

“Home is where the Art is” exhibition is on display at Canvas Galleries, 76 Stranmillis Road, Belfast, from 30 November — 9 December 2017:

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