Colin Davidson Selected paintings 1986-2022, F.E. McWiliam Gallery, Banbridge

The benefit of having an exhibition open for a considerable time is that it gives us time to organise ourselves and fit in a visit, rather than parroting that old "Oh, I wanted to go to that" line only to find the exhibition long gone.

Colin Davidson Selected Paintings at the F.E. McWilliam Gallery opened in June and is inching towards its September 10 end. More known for his large-scale portraits of politicians, actors, writers and musicians, the exhibition – co-curated by Riann Coulter and Kim Mawhinney of National Museums NI – gives us an opportunity to see more of his atmospheric views of Belfast alongside drawings and paintings from his portrait practice.

MIRROR IMAGE: Self-portrait by Colin Davidson
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MIRROR IMAGE: Self-portrait by Colin Davidson

The show includes some experiments using a 3D printer and video documentation from his Silent Testimony exhibition where he reveals the stories of eighteen people who are connected by their individual experiences of loss through the Troubles.

That exhibition has been touring the globe. At a talk a number of years ago, Colin revealed that he thought the government would have worked through the issues relating  to victims and their families. But as time went on and nothing appeared, he felt compelled to work on the issue, using art to dramatic effect.

Colin is also Chancellor of the University of Ulster. In recent years, he has painted author Edna O'Brien and Bill Clinton to add to the rollcall of famous faces who have sat for him.

The exhibition starts with a painting he completed as a teenager of the iconic red brick buildings of Belfast, which displayed his painting competency at an early age. The large-scale cityscape and street window reflections in Belfast, New York and London show muted tones, a keen eye and real painting dexterity. But for me it was interesting to see his preparation sketches and background work for the larger pieces — using the same type of mark for every piece. 

EARLY GENIUS: Belfast landscape by Colin Davidson
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EARLY GENIUS: Belfast landscape by Colin Davidson

As a painter he works on a number of canvasses all at the same time in one studio which for some people might feel overwhelming. However, the process seems to suit him.

There is a great book based on the exhibition available onsite and online which includes a newly commissioned essay by Kelly Grovier, the poet and cultural critic. This essay will act as a marker at this point in his career though I fully expect that there are many more highlights to come.

Meanwhile on home turf in An Chultúrlann, artist Sinéad O'Neill-Nicholl spent 2021 recording conversations with relatives of those who were killed in McGurk’s Bar bombing 50 years previously in 1971 and the results are there for us to see.

While some might have used the material simply as an archive, Sinéad has brought new life into the layers of stories by making the reflections available in the form of an art installation. Come down to the gallery and sit in an early-seventies living room to spend time contemplating the stories of those no longer able speak for themselves. A sensitive and thought-provoking artpiece which runs until early October.

Elsewhere in the city, the Engine Room Gallery organised an exhibition and auction with over 160 artists' work helping the Red Cross Ukrainian Refugees Appeal. Kwok Tsui at QSS Gallery shows just how much his paintings are ready to be turned into tapestries. 

ART OF WAR: Cathal McNaughton is exhibiting in Belfast Exposed Gallery, Donegall Street
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ART OF WAR: Cathal McNaughton is exhibiting in Belfast Exposed Gallery, Donegall Street

Local Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Cathal McNaughton was inspired by  the excitement of seeing photojournalists working locally during the tail end of the Troubles. Interested in our place in the world, he has a thought-provoking exhibition upstairs at Belfast Exposed. After visiting Kashmir  several times he saw a connection with the north of Ireland. Images of young soldiers in their legally sanctioned face-coverings and  others in illegal balaclavas diametrically opposed to each other, although with similar dreams, cover the walls.

The images led him to him being expelled from India and banned from working there ever again which, considering he was chief photographer in India for Reuters, was quite something. He is quite proud of holding his creative line with the authorities, considering the ban  — nothing, of course, compared to what the locals are experiencing. Valley of Tears by Cathal McNaughton runs at Belfast Exposed Gallery until September 24, open Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 5pm   

The next late-night art is Thursday, September 1, when all good galleries are open late and novices and experts alike come out into the Belfast early evening air to see who’s been doing what. Why not join us?