Late Night Art tours showcase Belfast's thriving visual arts scene
ART, wine and food – what's not to like? This not very profound observation came to me on a sublime evening of culture, conversation and food held in five of Belfast's innovative art galleries to publicise the city's year-round Thursday Late Night Art tours.
As my husband said later, this was really a visual art version of a pub crawl. We began in the Naughton Gallery at Queen's University. It's a long narrow space, converted from the University's old phone exchange. On Thursday it pulsated with energy, thanks to an inspiring and witty exhibition about sport titled Get'cha Head in the Game, curated by Ben Crothers.
There are topical photos of Serena Williams looking rather sexy. You sense the gutsiness of this world-class athlete, even when in one shot we just see the tennis player's midriff, pants and navel jewellery – apparently Williams has said she finds these images empowering.
Having consumed some classy wine and cheese, we returned to our coach, the expert commentary from Susan McKeever, and moved to the Catalyst Gallery. Tucked away in an alley behind Queen Street, this is a cutting-edge operation and artist led. A man was wandering around with his head obliterated by what looked like paper bags. Belfast's deputy mayor, Mary Ellen Campbell, gamely posed inside a kind of regal metal shroud that seemed slightly Game of Thrones.
One seascape, called Ellipsis, by John Robinson caught my eye – conventionally representational at first glance, the oil-painted beach in the foreground was lit up by a bulb under the canvas.
On to gallery number three – and more food and drink. We entered the fascinating Belfast Exposed photography gallery. Not normally a massive fan of this genre, I was nevertheless won over by the archive photos of Belfast on the third floor and the Snake show on the ground floor.
In the archive, I noticed a big black and white shot of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly in the crowd just after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Clare Strand's slightly rude show, depicting women and snakes with suggestive texts, made us all smile.
On to venue number four, the Print Workshop in the Cathedral Quarter. We were greeted by friendly staff, who divided us into groups and gave us workshops in various crafts. I worked on a lino cut to a design by Jonathan Brennan, putting ink on to the piece of lino then working the press.
At the Golden Thread art gallery we saw more contemporary art and I gained a glimpse of some food art by Philip McCrilly. In the 1930s, it was all the rage to hold colour-themed parties – serving all purple food, for example – but here we had gorgeously healthy, seasonal offerings arranged artistically on the dishes. The asparagus starter with salsa verde was sensational.
Artistically, this clever gallery had a video trilogy, And Europe Will be Stunned by Yael Bartana, which tunes into many issues, from Brexit upwards.
This evening was a kind of taster menu of what's on offer in town now. Belfast is artistically vibrant today, with around 80 professional artists working here, and more artist-led projects than in many cities more associated with art. We have some real treasures here, so hop on the bus one Thursday night for some fun.
:: Belfast Late Night Art Tours occur on the first Thursday of every month, £10 per person. For booking see belfastarttours.co.uk; for more details see belfastcity.gov.uk/visualarts