Archives for May 2012

Basil Blackshaw

Marie-Louise Muir | 10:29 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Marie Louse Muir gallery visit




I met the artist Basil Blackshaw for the first time last week. He's a hallowed name in the Irish visual arts world, but is quite contrary when it comes to interviews. I kind of respect him for it. Why would you subject yourself to endless media interviews when, as he said to me last week, "the paintings should speak for themselves". He reminded me of Van Morrison. Doesn't he always say his songs do the talking for him? In many respects the two men share a similar world view. Let me be creative, they're saying and then enjoy that creativity, be it a painting or a song. But as an arts journalist it's my job to ask the whys of their art. Not that I've ever had an audience with Van the Man. The closest I've ever got to him was going into an East Belfast coffee shop, seeing someone I thought I knew at a far table, half raising a hand in greeting and the smile freezing on my face in horror as I realised half way through smile of so called recognition that it was Morrison himself. I retreated to an even further table and proceeded to ignore him as much as I could.

Fame and anonymity are uncomfortable bed mates, but both Morrison and Blackshaw seem to have a knack for keeping themselves to themselves, a skill in this celebrity-obsessed world. Blackshaw has taken his desire for anonymity to extremes, apparently once, I'm told, pulling a paper bag over his face for a newspaper photographer at the opening of his own show in a Dublin art gallery!

At least last week we got him to stand in line with us and get his photo taken, brown paper bag free!


I have never met him before and when we arrived at the FE McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge to do the interview last week I was struck by his apparent fraility, but his absolute conviction as he walked around the exhibition of his work for the first time.

I eavesdropped in as he and his partner Helen talked about paintings, some of which he hadn't seen in years, others which he thought could be better lit and others he thought shoudn't have ended up in the exhibition at all. He may be about to turn 80 but his sense of aesthetic is deep. I enjoyed watching the curator square up to him, which he enjoyed back. No shrinking violets allowed in his company. What would he have been like to know 30 or 40 years ago? Portraits of old friends open the exhibition as you walk through the door - David Hammond and John Hewitt (now deceased), Michael Longley and Brian Friel. To have been a fly on the wall during those sessions. The chat, the energy, the sheer delight in each other's talents obvious.

I came to know Blackshaw's work probably best in his designs for the Field Day Theatre Company's posters. Incredible images from the figurative realism of the lamp in "The Communication Cord" to the apparent childlike drawing of a sailing boat for "The Cure at Troy" to the bold, bright yellows and reds brushstrokes of Saint Oscar. I love them all, in very different ways. Each one perfectly complimenting the play.

He tells me Stephen Rea has asked him to create new art work for Field Day's series of three new plays for Derry in 2013. But no, he says, I can't. He raises a hand, flaps it around, and says of his hands, "they're useless". I can't get them to work, and if they don't work, I can't do any of my best work. It's a gut-wrenching moment, a reality check, of a body failing a mind, but a mind so in charge that he can still articulate why. I look at the hands being waved casually in front of me, hands that created some of the most celebrated art work of recent years on these islands being consumed by old age. I know Stephen will be gutted. It's the end of an era to not have a Basil Blackshaw poster. Celebrate him while we still can, and while he still has the mischievous wit to wear paper bags on his head!



Basil Blackshaw at 80 is at the FE McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge until October.

City Of Culture

Marie-Louise Muir | 11:14 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

It was a text message at 7.50am on Wednesday that first alerted me to the leak of proposed events for UK City of Culture in Derry in 2013.  Sir Cliff Richard and Snow Patrol were the headline news. The irony is that as a local arts journalist I have been  privy to quite a lot of what was being proposed for the year, and so I was waiting for the official launch (the now called Highlights Trailer) on the 30th of May which seems a bit of a damp squib now. But throughout the day as I read and re-read the document, I tried to take stock of the broader sweep of the year. The return of the Field Day theatre Company with a world premier of a new Sam Shepherd play,  Jerusalem, actor Mark Rylance said to perform Shakespeare at An Grianan and former Dr. Who David Tennant in a new play about his Derry roots during the Siege jumped out at me as serious theatrical coups for the city, as well as the already known about Turner, the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra. If you look at the arc of the year it would appear that the programmers are attempting to balance the year firmly at the more popular , bums on seats end of audience approval. In fact, it would appear to be everything that IMPACT 92*  appeared not to do. That festival in Derry 21 years ago seems, at times, to be almost a spectre hanging over the programmers. It is raised as what the UK City of Culture cannot become, which is a rewriting of history, as it brought brilliant things to the city.

While that year sadly ran out of fizz and finance halfway through, there has long been a message given out that IMPACT 92 had too narrow a focus on what are seen as high arts and culture. But what high arts and culture ! I know people who still talk about events they saw during that year. The city was already riding high on being the place of international art in the shape of the Orchard Gallery and international theatre in Field Day.

While the Orchard Gallery is gone, two visual art galleries and young curators work within two gallery spaces to bring cutting-edge material to Derry -  The Void and the newly-opened CCA Derry~Londonderry. It will be interesting to see what their role will be when the Turner Prize comes to the city next year and what the legacy of that visit will be locally.

Then we look at Field Day, with three new plays being premiered, one of which is by American writer and actor Sam Shepherd. That is a WOW factor. But sadly it's been an absence of nearly 20 years for a theatre company, which prided itself on being Derry-based and on bringing the world to the city. Back in the mid 90's when I was a placement student with Field Day, I stood in a former church on Great James Street with the Field Day board, looking at the potential of the space becoming a theatre where they could base themselves permanently. While this never happened, (and I wasn't involved in the discussions as to why it didn't), can you imagine the wealth of writing, acting, directing and producing talent, that could have been nurtured in a Field Day repertory theatre over the past two decades ?

So if there is to be a legacy (the big buzz word of the year), can we at least start housing our talent  for 2014?


The Penultimate Turner before the Turner comes to Derry.....

Marie-Louise Muir | 17:29 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

So the Turner shortlist for 2012 has been announced. A performance artist who renamed herself Spartacus, Paul Noble, who has created a fictional city inhabited by figures made of human excrement, Elizabeth Price, who makes sci-fi-inspired videos and Luke Fowler, who has made three films about psychiatrist RD Laing.

The prize, given to an artist under the age of 50 and with a £25,000 prize, is already famed for its controversy, with annual regular attacks asking is it art?  

The Times' Rachel Campbell Johnston on BBC Radio Ulster's Arts Extra tonight says that it's a "shortlist for a world that feels that things have gone rather has a mad rather vaudevillian feel, like there's been a kind of take over by the clowns".  So even she's a bit worried about where the Turner is going this year.

While this isn't the shortlist for Derry, and we won't know who the shortlisted four are until this time next year, I'm enjoying playing around with the notion of  Lali "Spartacus" Chetwynd doing a Jabba the Hut style performance piece in Ebrington. Ebrington is still the preferred site for hosting the Turner exhibition next October, only the third time to be outside of the Tate, after Liverpool and Gateshead, but locally I am hearing mounting concerns about the ability of the site to sustain not only a major art exhibition, but deal with the anticipated crowds. Some say that the ambition to bring the Turner to Derry hasn't been matched - yet - with the scale, the drama, the sheer, overwhelming Turner-ness of what the prize is about.  

The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, a purpose built visual arts space, was preparing for the Turner for over two years. With a year to go to Derry, there appears to be no plan. I know there are hopes that by the middle of this month there will be a plan in action and a curatorial team on the ground to start the process. That's the shock at the moment. Not the art, which for the Turner is ironic.

The Turner Prize 2012 exhibition will be at Tate Britain, 20 October 2012 – 20 January 2013. The winner will be announced live on Channel 4 on 3 December 2012

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