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Tributes paid to Belfast artist following his death aged 76

A McWilliams painting, 'Orangemen Passing The Irish News'
SeanĂ­n Graham

A RENOWNED Belfast artist famous for his satirical depictions of Orangemen and images of the Troubles has died at the age of 76.

Joseph McWilliams, who with his artist wife Catherine ran the Cavehill Gallery from their north Belfast home for almost 30 years, passed away on Wednesday.

Described by the Arts Council as one of Northern Ireland's "foremost visual artists”, he also taught at the former St Gabriel’s school on the Crumlin road and Jordanstown school for the deaf and blind as well as lecturing at the Ulster Polytechnic.

His friend and Irish News cartoonist Ian Knox remembered his skill and humour.

"Joe was not only a great technician, but highly political and best of all, and rare amongst serious artists, hugely funny. I defy anyone with an ounce of political insight to view his great 60x84ins 1989 oil on canvas "The Governors of Anguilla, Gibraltar, The Cayman Isles and the Last Governor of N.Ireland", in the Ulster Museum without bursting out laughing."

McWilliams, who became an arts columnist for The Irish News in 2000, has his work represented in major collections in Ireland, including the National Museums Northern Ireland, the National Self Portrait Collection of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s collection.

He also had numerous solo exhibitions.

The PUP's John Kyle also paid tribute to the artist's work, describing him as a "challenge to Loyalism" but who the party "valued as a person who who could represent working class urban life".

"He was not like other artists who withdrew from the conflict or considered the passions of the people in troubled times to be beneath his notice," he said.

"We recognise that he would not always have agreed with us but we would like, at this time of his passing, to record that his artistic endeavours were appreciated and that the people of Belfast should be proud to have had such an artist among them."

Irish News columnist Anne Hailes described the The Cavehill Gallery as "a beacon" during a grim period.

"The annual Christmas Show was the highlight with artists from all over Ireland submitting their work for Joe to hang - he was meticulous.

"With Catherine, Joe was a great host and those occasions were not only a shop window for painters but a meeting place for so many friends to wish him well with a glass of mulled wine. Today the house is still the centre for friends and admirers as they call to support the family. Joe McWilliams leaves an important and beautiful legacy.”

Joseph McWilliams is survived by his wife, son Simon and daughter Jane.

His funeral will take place on Tuesday, October 13 at 10am. Requiem Mass will be held at St Therese of Lisieux Church, Somerton Road, Belfast.

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