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Paisley 'drawn and hung' at Stormont and Westminster

Last year it was Westminster, this year the formidable Ulster politician Ian Paisley has been "drawn and hung" at Stormont.

Irish artist David Nolan has unveiled his portrait of the former firebrand DUP leader who is soon to be known as Lord Bannside.

First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams were among the guests who joined the Paisley family at the ceremony on Monday evening.

Mr Paisley stepped down from the post of NI first minister in 2008.

Admiring the latest portrait - in which he is wearing his trademark hat - he said he liked it.

"It is excellent. It is sharp. It is to the point. It is just myself. There are just the people waiting to hear what I have got to say," he said.

Last year, a portrait of the former firebrand as elderly statesman, painted by Northern Ireland artist Mark Shields, was unveiled at Portcullis House beside the Palace of Westminster in London.

It was pointed out that not even unionist icon Sir Edward Carson had such a privilege accorded to him.

Sunday Business Post

FINE ARTS & ANTIQUES 

Section of the Sunday Business Post

07 September 2008 By Ros Drinkwater

David Nolan’s oil paintings of Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley will be on display at the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts exhibition

Portraits make a comeback

Two oil portraits of iconic figures will feature in the 127th Royal Ulster Academy of Arts exhibition in Belfast this month. 

 

We have become so used to seeing the unlikely pair of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness being photographed chuckling together that it is pertinent to be reminded that it was not always so.

 

David Nolan’s powerful depictions were inspired by photographs taken by Paul McErlane during the final wrangles of the Good Friday Agreement. A lifetime of conflict is written on Paisley’s face and the canvas is huge, a reflection of that overpowering personality.

 

McGuinness appears to be looking into the future, his expression one of utter concern and uncertainty as to what lies ahead. Together, the two paintings capture the essence of a profound moment in Irish history.

 

Oil portraits had been out of fashion for many decades when 23-year-old Nolan graduated from the College of Marketing and Design in Dublin in 1987 and headed for a job as a trainee background painter with Disney in California.

 

‘‘My job was painting backgrounds in gouache for animated films. In the 1980s there had been a huge revival of feature animation so I had no difficulty in finding work. I spent the next 15 years first as a freelance background artist, then as an art director doing concept artwork in Dublin, London, Copenhagen, Oslo and Berlin,” he said.

 

By the late 1990s, 3D computer animation had taken over, and Nolan felt it was time for a new direction. A commission from the Office of Public Works to paint a series of Celtic high kings gave him his cue.

 

‘‘It was my first non-commercial commission,” he said. ‘‘In animation, you are always working from someone else’s drawings, so I found it totally liberating.”

 

In 2004, he began using oils: ‘‘Oil is so much more versatile. Gouache is very similar to watercolour painting - you work from light to dark and you only get one go at it. With oil you can do anything - thick or thin, light or dark, backwards and forwards - there are guidelines, but no real rules.”

 

At his home in a leafy Dublin suburb, Irish heroes are everywhere: Beckett on the landing, Joyce in his office, psychiatrist Ivor Brown in the unlikely company of teddy bears in the family room.

‘‘My concern is achieving a classical, romantic and yet modern image of our cultural icons, capturing the unspoken thoughts of their characters as we try to imagine the words on their lips or the ideas [in] their eyes,” he said. ‘‘With colour, light and dark, natural or artificial, I attempt to highlight their impact to allow us to enter their worlds.”

 

The Paisley portrait came about early in 2007 when Nolan found the Paul McErlane photograph on the internet.

 

‘‘He is dressed immaculately, old-style and traditional, but it was the look of desperation that stuck me as so powerful,” he recalled. ‘‘When I called Paul McErlane to ask if I might use his photograph as a basis for an oil, he agreed immediately, and mentioned that he’d also taken a picture of McGuinness that might interest me.”

 

Nolan had his first two solo shows in France in 2005 and 2006, and the following year made his Dublin solo debut. His work is now in several prestigious private collections and this year he was invited to join the Oil Painters of Ireland, a new art club that aims to promote the best of contemporary oil painting.

 

For many collectors, the portrait is seen as the pinnacle of representational art: art in which the images are clearly recognisable as what they purport to be. While abstract works have dominated the lofty heights of the contemporary art market over the past half century, representational paintings remain the most popular with collectors and the general public.

 

In the 1940s, however, the combination of modernism and photography led to the portrait’s fall from grace. ‘‘By the time I was at art school, students were directed to put the focus on painting emotions, not what we saw,” said Nolan. ‘‘The danger with that is that techniques can get lost.”

 

Now the wheel has come full circle - suddenly it is fashionable again to sit for your portrait in oils. With the emergence of the automatic digital camera and mobile phones, the world and his dog can (and does) photograph everything, so we are seeing a growing desire to up the ante with something that is considerably more accomplished - gravitas as opposed to the grabbed shot.

 

‘‘For several years, I’ve been keeping an eye on the annual BP Portrait Awards in London,” says Nolan. ‘‘It is the world’s most prestigious portrait award, and over the past two years the standard has improved enormously. These are modern, contemporary works, and there is a demand for them.”

 

The 127th Royal Ulster Academy of Arts Exhibition, September 19 to October 19, the Titanic Drawing Offices, Queen’s Island, Belfast; website: rua.webcorona.com 

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