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Falls Road artist was grand old man of sci-fi's golden age

Artist Gerard Quinn at work

GERARD Quinn was affectionately known as one of the “grand old men” of science fiction.

The west Belfast man was one of group of illustrators who created their distinctive works during the British sci-fi boom of the 1950s and 60s.

This was before Star Wars, the space race and the computer era, a time when writers and artists relied almost entirely on their imaginations.

Gerard painted many memorable covers for magazines and books, with Arthur C Clarke among the authors whose stories he brought to life.

It was an impressive achievement for a young man from the working-class Falls Road - and all the more so because he was entirely self-taught.

Gerard Alphonsus Quinn - dubbed 'Alfy' by his family - was born on Ward Street in 1927.

They were harsh times, with poverty and disease commonplace, and as a boy he survived diphtheria but lost his younger brother Stephen to the illness.

At the outbreak of World War II he was briefly evacuated to Cushendall but returned to witness the Belfast Blitz.

As a young man Gerard worked on building sites in London but would always escape to roam the capital’s art galleries and it was through these frequent visits that he studied his chosen craft.

When he returned to Belfast he was determined to be an artist. His drawings and paintings ranged across many subjects but he had a passion for science fiction.

He submitted his work on spec to John Carnell, editor of the London-based New Worlds magazine.

Carnell was instantly impressed and Gerard soon became a regular contributor to this and other publications, his paintings gracing many front covers.

The artwork of this era has a unique quality, the vivid colours and iconography reflecting the mostly American films of the time.

These artists set out to envisage the future but when we admire their work today it is evocative of a distinct period in the middle of the twentieth century and we are instantly transported back to that stylish age.

In 1957 Gerard wed the love of his life, Jean Keenan. The marriage was a very happy one and they had five children, Geraldine, Stephen, Nial, Damon and Joanne, setting up home in Riverdale in Andersonstown.

Actor Damon is best known for his character Cal in Give My Head Peace.

Gerard had plans to relocate the family to Canada where he could pursue his career ambitions. But Jean was a home bird and he elected to stay and raise the family in Belfast.

For Gerard it was always family first and with money now a priority he went to work as an illustrator in the city’s advertising firms.

The advertising scene in Belfast in the late sixties was not exactly Mad Men but his many stories of his time in the art departments of firms such as as AV Browne included characters who would not be out of place in the TV series.

Gerard’s work in advertising was diverse. It could be big commercial projects like concepts for department store adverts and travel agent promotions. Or it could be the slightly less glamorous job of illustrations to go on biscuit tins.

He often found the work frustrating but felt rewarded when a campaign succeeded due to his visualised conceptions.

He continued to work in advertising through the 1970s before going into contented retirement.

When his beloved Jean died in 2013 he felt her loss deeply but took comfort and delight in his family, especially his grandchildren.

Gerard was a devout Catholic. He was not uncritical of the Church and acknowledged its human failings, but his simple faith was central to his approach to life and in his young days this was reflected in his art.

One of his earliest works was a striking painting of the Madonna and Child which he completed aged 17. A print hung on the wall of the room where he passed away on November 30 aged 88, with his family at his side.

Gerard Quinn’s life can be remembered with three words: family, faith and talent. He lives on in the hearts of his family and the talent of the “grand old man” will always be there to be admired by art lovers.

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