Lives Remembered

Visit to Inishlacken was huge influence on painter MacIntyre

James MacIntyre's watercolour 'William James Stewart's Farm, Knockagh Hill' from the Royal Ulster Academy's Diploma Collection

JAMES MacIntyre had almost completed an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic when he threw it up to devote his life to painting.

And it was a visit just a few years later to the Connemara coast that grounded the young artist and developed his painterly expression for the next six decades of his long, creative life.

In 1951 Belfast artist Gerard Dillon invited James to join him on the island of Inishlacken, off Roundstone in Co Galway, for a month or so, to paint.

The younger man by 10 years, he travelled from Belfast to Dublin where he stayed with another Belfast painter, George Campbell and his wife Madge, before they both proceeded to Roundstone and travelled by curragh to Inishlacken.

MacIntyre’s book Three Men on an Island, published in 1996, gives a vivid account of this experience and the rapport between the three artists.

The illustrations convey the essence of his art, his use of bold watercolours, his ease of drawing as he captured in pen and ink the islanders as they carried out their daily chores, bringing seaweed from the shore to the potato beds, using a scythe to cut the hay, repairing the thatch on their cottage roofs, shearing sheep, and bringing in creels of turf from the bog with their donkeys.

His artistic output from these six weeks on Inishlacken became his one-person exhibition at the CEMA Art Gallery in Donegall Place in Belfast in 1952, later to become the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Life was difficult for the young artist, as it was too for the more established Dillon and Campbell to make a career out of painting pictures in the fifties.

They could barely afford artists’ materials and welcomed the introduction of hardboard as a new support, Dillon even using a blow torch to melt off the old paint of an unsuccessful work so that he could reuse the board.

MacIntyre, from Coleraine but educated in Belfast, was awarded a CEMA travelling scholarship in 1955, which allowed him to travel to Paris to study painting.

He had a one-person exhibition in the Arts Council Gallery in 1960 and at the Bell Gallery in Belfast in 1967 and 1976.

After spending some years in London working as a book illustrator, he returned to Northern Ireland and worked in the Ulster Polytechnic and continued to paint, making Greenisland, Co Antrim his home.

He exhibited with the Royal Ulster Academy from 1948, becoming an associate in 1965 and an Academician in 1985.

His diploma painting, the watercolour ‘William James Stewart’s Farm, Knockagh Hill’, depicts a rural scene with the farmer clearing the barn, his iconic black and white cow approaching the hay trough, white walls of barns against a cloudy sky.

The flashes of colour in the red barn doors, the colour and movement of the sheets and pillowcases on the line, the simplicity and freshness of paint application, capture the essence of a typical well managed Ulster farm.

James MacIntyre died aged 89 on December 21. He is survived by his wife Mike and sons Sean and Andrew.

Dr Denise Ferran

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Lives Remembered