CLEMENT McAleer – well known and admired in artistic circles – is currently exhibiting a selection of his works from 1973 to 2023 in the FE McWilliams Gallery, Banbridge.

The exhibition starts  with his first 'official' painting then trips the light fantastic through a vista of trains and gloriously sumptuous landscapes. If you lament people's inability to stop and connect with nature and the natural environment, you can admire McAleer's lifelong connection to observation and painting. Oh, how everyone could benefit from spending some time to stop and stare. If you then move into the stop and create category, even more power is exercised.

McAleer studied in Belfast, Canterbury and the Royal College of Art. The paintings are hung in a gallery which is, fittingly, a barn-like structure where nature and greenery are captured in all their light and glory. His more abstract paintings are on show too – currently owned by the Ulster University  and the Ulster Museum – but you can still see structures in them and there's beauty in layers of painted decomposed wood and abstract forms.

McAleer famously won one of the UK's most prominent painting accolades, the John Moores Painting Prize in 1978 and was again included in the shortlisting exhibition in 1985 and 1991; past winners have included David Hockney and Peter Blake. This year the prize narrowed down 3,337 painting to 60 – so that gives us a real feel for the competition involved. 

After twenty five years in Liverpool, McAleer returned to live locally in 2003 and has continued his studio practice in Belfast, as Dr Riann Coulter explains in the booklet accompanying the exhibition.

The focus of McAleer's painting is landscape, not the particularities of place, but rather the restless, shifting aspects of nature where cloud or water, land or sea, meet and merge.

"Trains are a recurring  theme but in an abstract way, with the autumnal abstract forms of Lime Street Liverpool railway station or the weeds and wild flowers captured in the light of Munich station. His series of small window views refresh the viewer as if looking out a window on a spring or summer day, sparkling  even the weariest  of souls."

The exhibition closes with a painting of spring 2023, captured forever at that point of nature joyously springing forth. There is a lovely selection of sketchbooks, which are always a treat to explore, and an excellent cafe on-site makes it a good reason to take a run down the motorway. The gallery is clearly signposted and has recently announced an extension plan for a permanent FE McWilliams Gallery, members' room, community space and coach parking, to name a few of the upgrades due to start 2024.

The exhibition continues until February 3, 2024.

Meanwhile, back in Belfast the Outburst Queer Arts Festival has started around the same time as Catalyst Arts turns 30.