Saturday, September 23, 2017
   
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Why Art is the new rock ‘n roll!

Award-winning travel writer JOHN TREW visits some of his favourite places on the local art scene …

ART IS the new Rock ‘n Roll, we are told, and cultural tourism is the fastest growing sector of the global travel industry. It wasn’t always like that.

During the summer of 1959 when my school-friend Bob Sloan (now Ulster’s most distinguished sculptor) and I were teenage barmen in London, we often spent our long afternoon breaks in an nearly empty Tate Gallery. Now split across two sites in the capital, Tate Britain and Tate Modern have had more than 40million visitors since relaunch a few yearts ago and have generated an estimated £100million in tourism revenues. There are also brilliant regional off-shoots; I love Tate St Ive’s overlooking the surfing beach; and I look forward to ticking Tate Liverpool off my bucket list this year or next.

Our own Ulster Museum has also been a tremendous success since reopening in 2009. I would have liked to give you up-to-date visitor numbers in support, but stats are not my strongest subject and my search engine did not throw up headline figures. I read through a DCAL document that was so obscurantist that I had to abandon my research.

However, as I go to the Museum every Tuesday, let’s say that I always have to queue for my Americano because of the mid-morning crowds and the galleries are usually buzzing with visitors. I chatted to a Canadian VFR couple recently who were enthusiastic about the quality and variety of the exhibits which “compared very favourably to the best of the museums back home.” They loved the shop and were surprised when I was personally critical about the seeming predominance of craft products made outside Northern Ireland.

I don’t know what the Chinese students I see make of our complex history and cultures as reflected by the Museum.They are doing degrees at Queen’s next door, but their English seems to be about as fluent as my Chinese, so they wander around in homogenous groups, chattering to one another on their iPhones, hardly glancing at the displays.

Paula Batt

Palette and palate come together in Banbridge

MY FAVOURITE cultural visitor attraction, as regular readers already know, is the FE McWilliam Studio and Gallery just off the main Belfast-Dublin road near the entrance to The Outlet retail village outside Banbridge. It’s also the local district council’s TIC and is worthy of a visit to stock up on tourism literature from all over the region; however, the main reason why it is often so busy is because of the (usual) excellence of the food in Quail’s Restaurant.

I say (usual) because of our recent experience involving two underheated bowls of stew which were cheerfully replaced by a pair of fresh, hot portions which – ironically - took some time to cool down. I left the table and returned to the exhibition in the adjacent gallery to kill time. It was on this second visit that I fell for a masterly example of the printmakers’ art, Paul Croft’s ‘Flags,Floats and Boats’. I called in the Boss and by the time the stew had cooled, we had bought a framed version of the print. That stew therefore turned out to be my most expensive meal since Aer Lingus treated travel journalists to an exquisite €200-a-head dinner in the famous three-Michelin-star restaurant ‘Le Taillevent’ to celebrate their new Paris service.( That was in the good old days when airlines had huge PR budgets. Changed times…)

Anyway, Paul’s print was just one of many artworks in the Banbridge exhibition entitled ‘Shared Inheritance’ which ran until February 22. That means it’s over, but I just had to give it a mention because it was a totally unique family exhibition involving the works of Paul’s parents, the famous painter Richard Croft, and his mother Helen Kerr who makes astonishing creations from textiles and suchlike.

The fourth member of this ultra-talented quartet is the art historian Amanda Croft who contributes an insightful Introduction about the family dynamic to the handsome catalogue (copies may still be available at the Gallery shop to give you a flavour of this great show). Amanda is probably best known for her very popular lecture series in the Ulster Museum (yes, that’s why I’m there on Tuesdays!) and for her Art Tours. More examples of Croft family works can always be seen at The Lodge Studio, Main Street, Dundrum, County Down. Also, a selection of Paul Croft’s lithographs is on show throughout this month, March 5-28, at the Seacourt Printmakers’ Workshop in Balloo Estate, Bangor.

I was once given a birthday gift of a 10-week course at Seacourt in their old, cramped and messy premises in central Bangor. I loved it. Their current workshops are spacious, well-equipped - and patently inspirational, judging by the quality of the prints on display.

TED’S BEQUEST TO HIS BIRTHPLACE

THE internationally celebrated Banbridge-born sculptor FE McWilliam (Ted), bequeathed his London studio and its contents (down to his last packet of cigs) plus a number of sculptures, to his native town. After prolonged deliberations, Banbridge District Council created the present purpose-built attraction in 2008, comprising a big gallery space for important art such as the new exhibition ‘The Faraway Nearby’, March 7 – May 17, which combines works by masters such as Paul Henry and Colin Middleton with contemporary emerging artists.There is also a beautifully landscaped sculpture park; an authentic re-creation of Ted’s ‘throughother’, studio in a big shed; plus TIC and restaurant. It is a must-see stop-over on the main road South.

Can you tell which one is the original? Is it this one?

Or this one?

Which Sunflowers are Trew AND False?

FAKE OR FORTUNE has been by far the most popular – but far too short - post-Christmas TV series among art-lovers. Three peak-time programmes were devoted to investigating paintings which could either be fakes/copies/replicas, or the work of famous painters like Gainsborough, in which case they would be worth a fortune.

The dividing line can be very thin indeed. One painting had been bought for £100,000 because it was attributed to the Russian master Marc Chagall in 1910. Doubts were raised when traces of modern chemical colourants were found during one of the high-tech tests which are at the core of the investigations. When the painting was sent to Chagall’s family experts in Paris, it was not only declared a fake but also condemned to be destroyed!

Here is my own fun version of the Fake or Fortune format:

One of the paintings on the bottom left of this page is an illustration of a REAL Vincent van Gogh study of Sunflowers currently packing them in at London’s National Gallery alongside another, very similar, version he painted himself which is on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. However, I have substituted a copy - inspired by Vincent’s famous original but painted by myself – for the Amsterdam canvas. ANSWER:The fake is the one with a blue background, signed ’Vincent and John’.

Pods provide ‘a kick up the arts’

MY HOME town of Bangor is valiantly using artistic creativity to help regenerate the run-down town centre along the lines of Margate, which also sorely needed what Tracy Emin - its most famous native – characteristically described as ‘a kick up the Arts’.

Six colourful Art Pods - under the branding PROJECT 24 - have transformed Bangor’s near-derelict Queen’s Parade by providing studios/retail outlets for members of the creative community to welcome customers. What was once a disgraceful blot on the urban landscape in front of Ireland’s busiest Marina, is now an artistic and economic asset to the Borough.

I attended the packed-out opening night of ‘Art on the Seafront,’ an impressive showcase of works by a variety of Pod tenants over the past year, from long-established painters/illustrators like Barbara Allen to newbies like the papercut specialist, Paula Batt and my friend Jenny Young who has successfully made the brave move from architecture to fine art. North Down Museum is the venue for this great show which runs until March 16.

Pods provide ‘a kick up the arts’

MY HOME TOWN of Bangor is valiantly using artistic creativity to help regenerate the run-down town centre along the lines of Margate, which also sorely needed what Tracy Emin - its most famous native – characteristically described as ‘a kick up the Arts’.

Six colourful Art Pods - under the branding PROJECT 24 - have transformed Bangor’s near-derelict Queen’s Parade by providing studios/retail outlets for members of the creative community to welcome customers. What was once a disgraceful blot on the urban landscape in front of Ireland’s busiest Marina, is now an artistic and economic asset to the Borough.

I attended the packed-out opening night of ‘Art on the Seafront,’ an impressive showcase of works by a variety of Pod tenants over the past year, from long-established painters/illustrators like Barbara Allen to newbies like the papercut specialist, Paula Batt and my friend Jenny Young who has successfully made the brave move from architecture to fine art. North Down Museum is the venue for this great show which runs until March 16.

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