Ooh look what Skye, my portrait model for last night’s portrait class, brought! I feel a portrait AND a still life coming on!
10 min charcoal sketch on cartridge paper
In December 2011 I had three small super 8 films transferred to DVD. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find on them but I did know they were taken by my parents in the 60s. Actually I had hoped I would find a reel with my sister’s wedding filmed in 1969 as I had a funny (guilty!) feeling that it was rather foolishly put in my care. What did emerge, however, was, firstly, a trip my folks made to Canada to visit an aunt who had emigrated to Winnipeg many years before from dad’s “aul country” of Armagh Brague. The next contained some odd bits and pieces obviously filmed to record every day life in the McClelland household the quality of which had so badly degraded it was frustrating and almost painful to watch through the snowstorm and weird colours which had replaced the old familiar faces of yore. The third was filmed at my sister’s graduation in 1964 outside Queen’s Whitla Hall in Belfast.
There she was – my sister – a young, newly qualified teacher, fashionable in her navy chiffon shift dress with her hair piled high in a black bouffant – stunning (as she still is) walking towards the camera and beside her Mary, my mum, dressed to the nines in the outfit she had worn to my brother’s wedding the year before! She was always stylish.
Inspired by the Gerhard Richter exhibition I had visited in Tate Modern shortly before I had had the films transferred, I decided to paint my mother from the archive and this is the result: (with apologies to Gerhard Richter!)
“Mary in her Finery” oil on canvas
This study was started a couple of days ago in a pastel demonstration at a local art club, The Monday Painters, where someone was taking photos as I worked. (Of course if I’d known this I would have glammed myself up a bit!)
The subject is a young nephew who came to sit for me last week. I loved the pose which reminded me of a Modigliani subject.
Originally I was only going to paint the head and shoulders but there’s a certain tension and embarrassment in the way he folded his arms and tucked away his hands for the sitting that I felt needed to be incorporated into the painting
It seemed the perfect opportunity to combine the pastel demonstration with a study for the oil painting which I have now started.
The support is mount-card which I prepared with gesso and marble dust and applied with a DIY brush in order to leave brush-strokes
Thanks to Les Sharpe from Monday Painters for the photos
Cherry Blossom (Pollock style) – acrylic drip painting
One of the societies I belong to, The Arts Society of Ulster, recently held it’s annual open exhibition at Merville House. This has become a regular venue for the ASU, however, normally, this exhibition takes place at the end of the summer. It was such a lovely surprise when I rolled up for the opening night (ahem… to receive my Bigger and Strachan Award for portraiture – thought I might just get that in!) to find Merville Garden Village in full cherry blossom bloom. Now it’s not that I didn’t know this place existed – my aunt Helen, my mother’s sister, who used to live with us until I was born, moved into a flat in Merville Garden Village and lived there for 37 years until her death in 1987. We visited her home regularly but cherry blossom time was a must for an extra special visit. We would set off on a Sunday, straight after church, for roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings (lunch was what posh people did!) and we’d stay for tea of home-made victoria sponge, shortbread (best I’ve ever tasted), date bars, fudge, pots of tea and lemonade for us kids. In between these two feasts we would take a dander (stroll) through the estate and down to the glen which lay behind her block of flats. There we were met with the most wonderful aroma and sight of wild garlic – masses of little, white, star-shaped flowers interspersed with bluebells.
I left home in 1969 and during the 70’s and 80’s the said glen became gradually less and less visited by my aunt on account of the sad recent history of our part of Ireland and the fear (rational or not) of what might be found there. So, of course, once my memory had been prompted, I had to take a nostalgic stroll through Merville Garden Village and down to the glen fearing the worst – that the glen might not even exist any more, but to my delight, the wild garlic and the bluebells were as profuse as ever and the cherry blossom lit up the sky. Now it’s a long, long time since I attended any church but if aunt Helen is looking down (she would definitely be in heaven!) I think her heart would soar as mine did yesterday at the sight of Merville Garden Village at Cherry Blossom Time.
Mum and auntie (right) outside her block of flats
Another interesting fact is that Sir Stanley Spencer, English painter, painted Merville Garden Village in 1951.
Merville Garden Village lies north of Belfast in Newtownabbey off the Belfast Lough Shore Road. If you want to see the cherry blossom you’ll need to hurry – the wind is picking up and it won’t last!