Colour on the March

Catalogue introduction to 1997 solo exhbition
at the Cavehill Gallery , Belfast.
Since my student days in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s my painting has usually reflected my Belfast roots which could be described synoptically as; Belfast, Catholic and Irish. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is a political dimension to my work, although not, I hope, a propagandist one. Belfast has always been an uneasy city in which to live. The sectarian politics of generations have coloured all our perspectives. Fed on a mishmash of emblems, slogans and religion it is no surprise that we have produced politics, which although colourful, are difficult for the normal stomach to digest.
As a child growing up in Belfast, my earliest memory of the Twelfth of July was hearing the undifferentiated sounds of the marching bands wafting over the city’s rooftops; sometimes loud, sometimes faint as though they were part of Belfast’s inner metabolism. For me these pulsating sounds represented a furious otherness; an otherness which clenchedly declared not only what it was, but, more importantly what it was not.
It was in fact a noisy, colourful celebration of separateness. The dictum, “Whatever you say, say nothing” reinforced this separation. I found later, that painting helped me bridge the gap. It was a sheltered voice. It allows words of a sort to lurk within the colour, tones and textures of the paint so that a little more than “nothing” might be said. My Orange Parades are not folk parades. My Tartan Drummers are not musicians at garden fetes. There is aggression in their playing and this underlying violence is suggested by the fury of their drumming and the pixilated anonymity of their faces.
But thr Twelfth of July Parade is also a marvellous, colourful spectacle, whatever it’s political or religious base. The simple mechanics of this event appeal to me as a painter. The movement of colour on the streets becomes the textural movement of paint which develops a life and language of its own and hopefully extends and invigorates the subject.
Although the Orange parade predominates in this collection the paint has, in a sense, led me to other parades; Republican pardes, Hibernian parades, Irish National Foresters, sullen sorties into public by paramilitary marchers and even to nuns and priests inching their way down the narrow, Medieval streets of Assisi. All of then are making some kind of territorial claim on the body or soul by taking colour on the march.

Joseph McWilliams ©
31st December 1996