Life

Anne Hailes: Art show proves just what a talent we've lost in Sam McCready

An artwork by the late Sam McCready – an exhibition of his work takes place in Belfast next month

THE outpouring of love for the late Sam McCready has been exceptional. He absorbed life in all its fullness and beauty and so he touched many lives. Sam, who died last month after a short illness, was a teacher, a writer, an actor and director and, towards the end of his life, a man who studied oriental themes with Chinese masters, learning the skill of calligraphy and the use of ink in brush painting.

When I talked to his beloved wife Joan in their home in Baltimore she explained that although Sam trained in art at Stranmillis College, took classes at the College of Art and then taught art at Fane Street school, he didn’t really get back to serious painting until he retired from the University of Maryland in 2001.

“At that point, he had time to devote himself to writing, acting, directing, and painting. Over the years his paintings moved through many stages, from impressionist landscapes of Ireland, gradually becoming more abstracted, to a more recent time when he was privileged to work with some Chinese painters during our frequent trips to Hong Kong, eventually culminating in last year’s exhibition in the Shen Shui style, Chinese ink on paper.

"I must be very honest here and tell you that I do not really know how this or indeed any other stage of development was reached,” Joan said, adding: “Sam always painted alone. He felt that painting was a private art, as opposed to theatre which is a very public one. I was never present when he worked but he always asked for my comments as soon as they were done.

"He continued to work on this last set until he could no longer hold the brush firmly in his hand. In fact I only got him to sign them a few days before he died. He never got to choose the 20 he wanted to send to Charlie for framing. I hope I’ve made the right choice.”

En route to exhibition

Earlier this month they arrived in the Lisburn Road workshop of Charlie Kennedy, the man Sam entrusted to the framing of his art work in readiness for an exhibition at Belfast ArtisAnn Gallery next month.

“In total 20 works with the theme Colour Emerging follows last year's exhibition which was titled Six Colours of Black," Charlie said. "I discussed with Joan and we decided they should be float mounted with fine black frames because the balance is so critical. The frame should allow the work to come forward – the first thing the viewer should see is the painting with the frame complementing, never dominating.”

Art framer Charlie Kennedy at work in Belfast

The many moods of nature is the underlying theme of this Sam’s second solo collection and here’s a fascination as you look into the shapes and colours to find mountains and seas, trees and landscape.

Talking to Charlie made me understand just how delicate his job is. His father started the framing business with his son helping out when he could in his spare time from his job as a naval architect in the shipyard, working on everything from tankers of half a million tonnes to car ferries and all between, in the famous drawing office.

But since 1992 bespoke frame making has become Charlie’s business. And while he reckons he doesn’t need to be an artist to be creative, hearing him talk to the customers who came and went when I was there, it's clear his advice and suggestions are much valued.

Once Charlie’s job is completed, the finished product will travel carefully across town to Bloomfield Avenue and the ArtisAnn Gallery where Ken Bartley explained that Sam’s work is already held in private and public collections in Ireland, the United States and the Far East indeed one held over from the last exhibition was recently sent to a collector in Hong Kong.

Memories in ink

“Last year we showed Sam’s Six Colours of Black, featuring works inspired by his memories of the Irish and American countryside," Ken said. "Quite abstract but with a great feeling of nature. Now his work Emergence of Colour is just that, still Chinese inks but this time the colour is bursting through in these unique works that are a direct follow-up to his successful show last April.

"However, Sam’s vibrant character meant that he couldn’t stick to monochrome forever, and this exhibition embraces colour with abandon. As an artist, he has absorbed nature in its many moods, with the patterns and rhythms of line, texture and space.”

The opening night will be emotional, supported by Sam's many admirers and opened by Neil Shawcross who loved and respected his old friend. Sam and Joan were inseparable in life and she will also be there to support Sam just as she has done since they married over 50 years ago.

:: The exhibition runs from Thursday April 4 to Saturday April 27, with a preview on Wednesday April 3; opening times, 6 to 8pm. See artisann.org and belfastframed.com/contact

 

The scene at the Greenvale Hotel after last week's tragedy. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA

10 DAYS OF TRAGEDY

THE past 10 days have brought such heartbreaking news from Christchurch New Zealand to southern Africa where the devastating cyclone Idai has caused a 'massive disaster’ affecting thousands possibly millions of people, to our own Cookstown and the Greenvale Hotel tragedy.

Offering condolence to all those involved, especially the parents and families of Lauren, Morgan and Connor, the young people caught up in the terror of what happened and those who faced dealing with the situation, just doesn’t seem adequate. Suffice to say we are thinking about you and sending our deep sympathies.

 

SCANDALOUS WASTE OF MONEY

I’m a devotee of EastEnders but to spend £87 million on a new set is simply criminal and it’s coming out of our hard-earned cash. For my money nothing can justify such blatant advantage taking and ill-advised decisions by those BBC head-the-balls.

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