Northward Ho!

Yesterday I went up to Belfast with a few friends including Sheila Pomeroy, (who has a fantastic exhibition at the Molesworth Gallery, Dublin), and Tony Strickland. We were meeting Neil Shawcross for lunch at his studio. He has these gatherings quite regularly, but up until yesterday I hadn’t been able to get to one.


His studio is extraordinary. It is on the top floor of an unassuming office building, near Queens. It is when you go through the door that the transformation of the ordinary to the extraordinary begins. There is work by Neil and lots of his friends all over the walls, and even on the sloping ceilings. The studio is roughly divided into three parts. The first is full of paintings both finished and ones he is currently working on, (men in hats). Then there is a kitchen area, and finally there is a room whose walls are covered completely with packaging of every conceivable type. From tins of Coleman’s Mustard, coffee, Italian biscuits and Oxo cubes to boxes of cereal and washing powder….the list is endless, and they are meticulously stuck to the wall, floor to ceiling, forming a type of mosaic. In here there is a very big work table where the lunch was hosted with big roof windows filling the room with light; we were joined by several others for the lunch. The door into this part of the studio is disguised as a set of shelves, (full of jars of course), and at one point I was a bit alarmed as someone shut it and there didn’t appear to be a handle on the inside. With no one on the outside, my over active imagination kicked in, and I instantly saw a newspaper with our names splattered all over it with the grisly discovery of our bodies in a couple of month’s time ……

The lunch was great fun, with hilarious tales and jokes told over delicious food and wine. Neil is a great host. In all we were probably there a little over two hours and it seemed strange that it was still bright when we emerged. We then went to a few galleries, I went to the Cavehill Gallery to meet Joe and Catherine McWilliams who have a great exhibition every Christmas, to collect some work.
We then retired to Muriel’s. A fantastic pub which is in an old milliner’s shop. It is wonderful, and I felt I could move in there on a permanent basis!
From there we went to The Merchant, a fabulous hotel in an old bank building where we really lost the run of ourselves, and had cocktails! – I know I hear you saying “it’s far from cocktails she was reared…!” But it was fab, and we were "on our holidays!”

We eventually had dinner, fish and chips at Conor Cafe near the Ulster Museum, surrounded by more of Neil’s work, missing the 10.30 bus, we had to bide our time at Teatro until, once again, we caught the Aircoach to Dublin at 12.30. It was almost 4am when I got to sleep, and then I’d to be up again at 8 for my Italian class which was here this week!

I really cannot do this very often…..