Reflected Lives: Broadening the canvas of the past An oral history project at a Belfast interface by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News 10 April 2018
Joe O’Donnell (Strategic Director, Belfast Interface Project) told the audience that the auspicious date for today’s exhibition launch was no accident. With reference to the much publicised conference at Queen’s University Belfast, featuring key political figures behind the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, O’Donnell said, “They’ll be talking about you”, the participants of the oral history project, Reflected Lives.
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
Open space photography at the Linen Hall Library by Allan LEONARD 31 May 2017
Gaining inspiration from viewing the archive postcard collection at the Linen Hall Library, a group of participants in a community photography workshop facilitated by Belfast Exposed set out to document their views of sharing and respecting open space in the city.
Then & Now: Belfast Blitz by Allan LEONARD 17 May 2017
In an apparent continuation of their Then & Now series, the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has produced a new set of blended images that show the material destruction caused by the Belfast Blitz attacks (April-May 1941), alongside contemporary and more familiar landmarks.
Everywhere is different but nevertheless is not unrecognisable by Allan LEONARD 25 April 2017
Of the treasure trove of prints and negatives held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), a relatively small selection of about 2,500 images are available to view on Flickr. This consists of three collections: the Allison Photographic Collection, the Cooper Photographic Collection, and a PRONI-created collection of merged images, which they called ‘Then & Now’.
Confident. Ambitious. Prosperous. Distinctive. Launch of Successful Belfast.
by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
27 October 2016
Walking past the students at their tabletops, working on their assignments with mock constructions at the School of Architecture at the Ulster University Belfast campus, there was no mistaking that I found the venue for the launch event for Successful Belfast, described in an advance notice by founding director of Belfast Buildings Trust, Ms Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle, as “a city-focused think-tank”.
But you will need a real library card at a participating library, whether in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom or the USA — it’s a widely adopted borrowing system.
Overdrive works on Mac or Windows desktop, and on mobile devices iPhone/iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7.
First, simply download the Overdrive app onto your device.
When you open the app, you’ll be asked to “Add a Library”. Clicking that link brings you to a search field where you enter location details (e.g. “Belfast Central Library”). Then, you’ll be asked to enter your real library card number.
And that’s pretty much it. Back in the Overdrive app you’ll see your list of libraries. Clicking one brings you to that library’s e-book checkout service (where you follow that library’s instructions). For Libraries NI, you login with your library card number. You can then browse all available e-books and audiobooks, which are available to borrow for 21 days. You can check out up to 9 e-books at a time.
You add desired books (which are dependant upon availability at the library; you still may have to compete against other borrowers!) to your basket, then proceed to checkout where you then download to your device.
Pretty straightforward after linking up your library to your Overdrive app.
I’m impressed, as it restores a link with my local library. Hope that Libraries NI can gear up their promotion campaign, though, as I only discovered this by accident.
FYI here is what I’m e-reading now from Belfast Central Library:
Transformation and Ongoing Conflict in Contemporary Belfast (BBC Radio Ulster) 31 January 2010
On 20 January, the Institute of Governance at Queen’s University Belfast hosted a workshop organised by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of St Andrew’s: “Transformation and Ongoing Conflict in Contemporary Belfast”.