Book review: Irish Summers (Harry GRUYAERT) by Allan LEONARD 21 March 2021
Harry Gruyaert’s work is recognisable by its saturated colours of thoughtfully chosen hues. The interplay with light is also crucial. There are images in Irish Summers that exemplify such decisive moments, when colour and light come together to satisfy Gruyaert’s quest for sensual beauty in the otherwise banal.
Altered Context: A New Parameters project by Allan LEONARD 20 July 2020
New Parameters was an online engagement project, with participants creating images of their responses to the arrival and presence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland. The Nerve Centre hosted collaboration, through video calls and the online platform, Slack. The following is my submission, named “Altered Context”. I am very thankful to the project’s organisers, for facilitating a forum for visual thinking and a place to make new acquaintances and friends.
Great Thinkers is a compilation of 60 short essays — about 1,500 to 3,000 words each — published by The School of Life, which dedicates itself to “developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture”. It describes the book as a volume of some of the most important ideas of Eastern and Western culture, drawn from the works of philosophers, political theorists, sociologists, artists, and novelists “whom we believe have the most to offer us today”.
“In my imagination, it was true”: Margins of Excess exhibition artist talk by Max PINCKERS by Allan LEONARD 14 June 2019
As part of the Belfast Photo Festival, Belfast Exposed is hosting an exhibition of Margins of Excess, by Max Pinckers. The artist gave a talk about this project in the gallery, describing how he approached the topic of intersecting news story truths from investigative facts and subjective realities.
Belfast Exposed exhibition talk: Post Truth: The new normal of the undefined, abstract, and make believe by Allan LEONARD 30 May 2019
Belfast Exposed is hosting a group exhibition displaying the work of graduate students of the MFA Photography programme at Ulster University (UU). The theme is “Post Truth”, which aims to explore how we find our truths in a reportedly “post-truth” society, through the medium of photography. As UU Professor Donovan Wylie explained on the information flyer, the works collectively represent collisions of faith, identity, and history, which “take us to a place of post truth, a world where there is a new normal: undefined, abstract, and make believe”.
Book review: The Colour of Time (Dan JONES & Marina AMARAL) by Allan LEONARD 26 May 2019
Released in hardcover in August 2018 and now available in paperback, The Colour of Time, by historian Dan Jones and artist Marina Amaral, is a collection of 200 colourised photographs taken between 1850 and 1960. With accompanying extended captions, this is a visually rewarding overview of personalities and major moments in world history, from the Crimean War to the space age.
Art in Trouble: Expressing Shankill’s story through creative participation by Allan LEONARD 28 March 2019
Billed as part of the Imagine! Festival, the Spectrum Centre hosted a European Arts Education Platformsession, “Art in Trouble”, on how the people of the Shankill neighbourhood of Belfast have told their stories more recently, through a variety of participatory art. David Boyd (Beat Carnival) welcomed the approximately ten visiting delegations from Europe, and he put tonight’s event in the context of asking how any artistic intervention affects social life and social change.
Burn/t Out: Crimes against social cohesion by Allan LEONARD 10 April 2019
One of the criticisms of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is that it did not satisfactorily scope out mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland; the focus was forging a consensus on exclusively non-violent means of pursuing politics. One form of violence during the Troubles was the forced displacement of some 45,000-plus people from their homes, whether through physically burning their properties or verbal intimidation. On the 21st anniversary of the Agreement, an art exhibition was launched at ArtCetera Studio. Organised by artist and filmmaker Casey Asprooth-Jackson and academic Brendan Ciarán Browne, Burn/t Out presents narratives and artefacts of Northern Ireland’s internally displaced persons.
SEVERE: Interview with Martin SEEDS by Allan LEONARD 5 November 2018
A new body of work by Belfast-born artist, Martin Seeds, has just been shown as part of the Brighton Photo Fringe. The works are an extension of Seeds’ application of landscape and allegory. Or put another way, our political landscape — literally and figuratively.
The Lost Moment exhibition: The provocation of 1968 by Allan LEONARD 27 September 2018
In the year 1968, there were street protests and marches in Belfast, Berlin, Derry-Londonderry, Paris, Prague, Selma and beyond. Some of the most powerful captured images and video clips are on display at The Lost Moment exhibition at the Gallery of Photography Ireland. On the day of its launch there was a two-part symposium on the topic of “Civil Rights: Then and Now”.
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.
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.
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: http://canvasgalleries.com