From a distance

7 Sep

It has taken me a decade to get to where I am today – finally throwing away the shackles of insecurity and fear of the unknown and not being good enough, and putting myself out there. True, because of various circumstances over the last couple of years, several vital opportunities have now slipped through my grasp completely and can almost certainly never be salvaged, and yet each one of those experiences has given me fresh resolve.

Back in my undergraduate days there were a number of professional and networking opportunities that came up that I stupidly shied away from. My confidence crisis was stupid, and I recall one of my tutors early in 2nd year telling me that I was daft not to have applied for the Cinemagic masterclass series that had been running that winter. Such a stupid thing, but his words continue to ring true – and at the start of the summer were echoed by another media insider who told me that there were folk getting jobs in the film industry in Belfast right now who had less experience than I did, and I was doing myself an injustice by not applying. So, I made it a point to myself that I was going to use the summer to get creative again, and start moving back towards the sort of work I’ve always wanted to do – all part of my giant reset button philosophy.

Thursday night saw another one of those pivotal moments when you realise you have embarked on something new. One giant leap into brave new worlds.

The Engine Room Gallery, Newtownards Road, Belfast

The Engine Room Gallery, Newtownards Road, Belfast

As a kid growing up I wanted to be an artist, and drew endlessly at home, often when I should have been doing something else. My uncle was/is a noted comic book artist, and I guess something about that world attracted me. By my teenage years I had given up on any aspirations to draw comic books – my mind just doesn’t work like that – but I did continue to draw and paint, and attempted to hone my largely self-taught skills in the classroom.

Somehow I deviated following my A-level experiences, and found myself moving further into film and photography, and less on more traditional arts. Even my creative writing took second place to academic writing, but I continued to dabble on a very sporadic basis. But all of these things are pointless if the work isn’t seen, critiqued, appraised, loved or loathed. One needs an audience, otherwise there is little incentive to continue. Its one of the biggest problems I’ve had with my writing over the last few years – a lack of comment from the readership both online and in print – although this blog has stirred up a fair amount of commentary, which is helpful.

I’ve grown rather accustomed to sharing my photographic work thanks to Flickr, but I’ve held back on sharing my original hand-crafted artwork, not least because it is so personal. When you create something by hand – even something which isn’t terribly good – you are giving of yourself in a way like no other (and this applied to writing to a great extent too). There is a skill level involved, and often a personal slant to the work in question. It is impossible not to take the criticism to heart sometimes. If you don’t like a photograph, I probably have another half a dozen that are okay. If you don’t like my artwork, it may be days or weeks or months before I can produce something else of any kind of merit, let alone something you actually like.

So walking into the Engine Room Gallery on the Newtownards Road in Belfast on Thursday night was a rather nerve racking experience.

I’d submitted a piece for the Art In The Eastside billboard exhibition early in July – a fantastic project that sees original artworks posted on huge billboards across East Belfast for several weeks (ending imminently folks). While I didn’t make it onto a billboard, my piece was invited for the exhibition of original artworks, which is running from now until 28th September. And so, lurking at the far end of the gallery is my original pencil work ‘Conn O’Neill Bridge’, an image of the original Connswater bridge, which still stands hidden off the Beersbridge Road, with the Harland and Wolff cranes in the background. I’m in fantastic company, with a wide collection of local and internationally acclaimed artists – really I feel like the imposter.

Art In The Eastside exhibition 2013 - my Conn O'Neill Bridge piece is in the middle

Art In The Eastside exhibition 2013 – my Conn O’Neill Bridge piece is in the middle

There were something like 60 artists involved in the billboards and exhibition.  The complete list of artists featured in the Art In The Eastside exhibition is: Colin Davis, Liam Campbell, Valerie Giannandrea, Ruth Moore, Aoife McGee, Myra Jago, Gerry Gleason, Joanne MacMahon, Lauren Osbourne, Ray Duncan, Karen Day Hutchinson & Helen Paisley, David Fox, Brenandan Clarke, Colin Darke, Barbara Craig, James Robert Moore, James Millar, Clinton Kirkpatrick, Victor Sloan, Alice Maher, Colin McGookin, Deirdre Robb, Jennifer Brown, Brooke-Valentine Menown, Ian Fleming, Katie Brown, Angela Anderson, Victoria J. Dean, Ciara O’Malley, Patricia Vallely, Susan McWilliam, Michael Hart, Derick Hegarty, Olwyn Colgan, Ramona Burke, Aisling O’Beirn, Emma Donaldson, George Robb, Ivan Frew, Jim Melin, Lisa Ballard, Robert JE Simpson, Heather J Ferguson, Patrick Calhoun, Maura O’Rourke, Rachel McBride, Aidan Butler, Stephen Millar, Andrew Haire, Margaret Woods, Mike Connor, Rachel Coote, Lesley Cherry.

The work is wonderfully varied, incorporating 3D objects, photography, paintings and drawings, some tiny pieces, some huge. Being able to compare some of the originals with the billboards is fascinating – you quickly get an idea of why some images work and some don’t. Some of the pieces (notably the prints), were let down by poor printing I felt – which fed into a debate about pricing work for sale, but I digress.

It is impossible for me to properly evaluate my own work. That it has been good enough to be invited to exhibit should say enough, but I am always dissatisfied. It was comforting talking to a couple of the other artists and find that they had similar problems with their attitude to their work that I did. As much as I wanted to see my work hanging, I felt a curious distance from the piece – an eerie disconnect. Seeing something on the internet isn’t the same as seeing something physically presented, and every time I see a piece of mine physically reproduced, or displayed, I cannot connect it with myself. A curious anti-climax. As tempting as it must be to stand beside your work with a proud “I made that” stance, the fear that people might think you to be conceited dissuades one from such moments of recklessness. Instead I found myself spending time with every piece except my own, which I quickly walked past, ending up chatting to a couple of friends, and other artists, some distance away – close enough to observe some folk seemingly admiring the work, but too far away to hear them uttering “what a load of crap”. Not that they were, but such is the poor conviction in oneself, that these are the words one almost expects.

I’m proud really – really thrilled to be included in an exhibition like this. East Belfast is my home turf, and I miss the streets of Belmont deeply. I’ve been exploring the city again by foot, reacquainting myself with it via photography, so in many ways I have come home. The piece came about through a desire to reconnect with that voyage over the Connswater river from the East and my latter home in Newtownards to the heart of the city. I also wanted to acknowledge the 400th anniversary of the signing of Belfast’s charter – and the old Conn O’Neill bridge is one of the oldest objects in the East of the city, so seemed appropriate.  I also wanted to pay homage to the Belfast painter John Luke, whose Connswater Bridge painting depicts the old factories and railway bridge near the present Holywood Arches. Luke was kin via my great-grandmother’s line, so it seemed a perfect combination in a year in which I’ve been embracing my ancestry.

And so to the question that has been asked of me lately – am I now an artist?

Well, I’ve described myself for years as an aspiring struggling artist, and occasionally as a lapsed artist. I’ve never pushed myself commercially, but have expressed myself through various of the arts. I have no qualms with saying I work in the arts, but haven’t really thought about this question for a while. In the grand scheme of things, I should stop shying away from it – I not only work in the arts, but I actually create artworks. Ergo, I am an artist.

Now to capitalise on this acceptance and to rebuild my portfolio. I shouldn’t settle until I have my own exhibition…

414 Newtownards Road
Opening hours: Tues – Sat, 10am – 4pm.


One Response to “From a distance”


  1. 1st Annual Review – 2013 | The Sherlock Holmes English-speaking Vernacular - January 2, 2014

    […] exhibition in Belfast where my ‘Conn O’Neill Bridge’ artwork was included, to my surprise and pleasure. I also became a god-father/guardian/uncle-not-by-blood in September to wee Henry. One of the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: