WHILE lockdown has been a testing time for many, it has also allowed those within the creative industries some time to work on their craft and produce some fantastic works of art.
Originally from West Belfast, artist and poet Noel Connor has used this time to produce a book of poetry in collaboration with artist Paul Stangroom with the profits raised going to Doctors Without Borders.
Discussing how he developed a love of art, Noel told the Andersonstown News: “I did a prize-giving in La Salle back in 2019 and I stressed the importance of the relationship between teachers and pupils. If you have someone who inspires you and makes you believe in yourself.
Now in stock! 'In Pause of Passing' a new collaboration between the artist Paul Stangroom & poet Noël O'Connor pic.twitter.com/qz7K74mO8h— Sarah Robinson-Gay (@RobinsonGay) December 11, 2013
“When I was a pupil at La Salle in the 1960s my art teacher Miss Nevison saw something in my work and encouraged me to get my own set of paints.
“So I caught the number 11 bus at Casement Park and went down town to the art shop in Fountain Lane, behind Castle Street and bought my very first set of proper paints. And really that was the start of everything.
“The Art Room was for me paradise, the place I most wanted to be. When the old La Salle School buildings were demolished my classmate and friend Davy McBride, a distinguished ex-teacher at the school, took the old brass handle off the Art Room door and sent it to me. You’ll probably think this is really pathetic, but that old door handle is now on my art studio door at home and every time I come into my studio I turn that handle.”
When the British Army took over La Salle during Operation Motorman in 1972, Noel was forced to leave school early. However, this did not impact his love of art and he began to enquire about attending an Art College in England.
“I got on the ferry, got the train, landed at the door of an Art College and asked if there was any chance that I could have a place at the College,” he said. “The fella I spoke to was a lovely bloke and explained that there was an application process. He told me that if I got my grants sorted then I could have a place the following year.”
On his first day at the College, Noel would meet Joan, the woman who would go on to be his wife. While Noel is more widely known for his artwork, he has previously collaborated with poets including the late Seamus Heaney.
“My work has always had an interaction with the written word and poetry. In the early days when I lived in the North East of England I used to go to the Morden Tower on Newcastle’s city walls.
“They held readings on a Friday night with the likes of Seamus Heaney, Tom Paulin, Michael Longley and Ciarán Carson. I was listening to these guys read then we would spend a few hours in the pub afterwards.
“I then worked with Charlotte Press and Bloodaxe Books where I collaborated with Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin. In truth I have always written and the written word has become as much a part of my creativity as the painting and filmmaking.
“I have been using filmmaking more during lockdown as it has allowed me to combine the written word with the visuals. I have created a YouTube Channel where I have uploaded my recent stuff.”
LOCKDOWN AND ISOLATION
In his latest work, Noel takes inspiration from his surroundings. “Most of my writing in the book returns to a time when my wife Joan and I lived in various remote spots just north of Hadrian’s Wall, in the borderlands between England and Scotland.
“We felt at home and comfortable in this no-man’s land, or as they’re described in the book – these ‘debatable lands’. So it felt right during lockdown and isolation to be going back and spending my creative time there. I had various exhibitions and readings planned but obviously they were all cancelled or they became on-line or virtual events. So instead I produced and designed this book during the winter lockdown. It’s been such an awful grim time for us all, and I’m only grateful that I can donate the profits from my efforts and my sales of the book to the charity ‘Doctors without Borders’ (MSF).
“Thinking back to living in that no man’s land, it feels like no one controls that sky. It is an ungoverned sky. The virus also doesn’t respect any border or sky.”
As we approach the centenary of the partition of Ireland, ‘An Ungoverned Sky’ feeds into the recent work that Noel has done exploring the concept of borders.
“A lot of my work recently has been about borders. I was working with the Artlink organisation in Donegal on the impact of the Irish border 100 years after partition,” he says. “I have just been invited by the writer Garrett Carr to contribute to an exhibition in Letterkenny which also explores that topic.
EXIST BECAUSE OF BORDER
“There is one piece called Border Poll and it seems odd as both my parents were quite on in age when they had me and I talk about things that generationally I probably shouldn’t. My father and mother met in the 1920’s. He was an English soldier stationed in Belfast and she was a linen worker working on the Falls Road.
“I had this realisation that I only exist because of the border. That was a bit of a shocker.
That allowed me to reimagine this dapper young soldier walking across the dance floor and asking my mother, in a thick Geordie accent if he could have a dance.”
To purchase Noel’s book, contact him via: www.noelconnor.com