This video includes curator Catherine Marshall talking with George McClelland about the Colin Middleton exhibition in the Gordan Lambert Gallery at the January to June 2001
It is an exhibition of 60 art works by the well-known Northern Irish painter Colin Middleton (1910-83). The exhibition opened to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 24 January 2001. Colin Middleton: Paintings and Drawings from the McClelland Collection focuses on Middleton’s astonishing output of Surrealist works from the late 1930s and early 1940s. The works form part of the 400-works collection of George and Maura McClelland, Middleton’s good friends and agents. The exhibition reveals Middleton’s extraordinary technical skill and range of interests. While these were expressed through a variety of modernist styles they are all pervaded by his fudamentally Surreal vision of the world. Another constant thread is his consistent use of the female archetype in the landscape.
Born in Belfast in 1910, Colin Middleton was probaly the most eclectic Irish painter of the 20th century – moving with ease and conviction through Cubist, Surrealist and Expressionist styles throughout his life. Largely self-taught, his father’s influence as an amateur artist and visits to London and Belgium fuelled his early interest in art. He worked in the family damask business until 1947 when the opportunity to teach art enabled him to give more time to painting. Throughout the rest of his life, frequently made precarious by poverty, Middleton painted images thrown up by his rich imagination. These derived their strength from two main sources – the passion with which Middleton presented them and the artist’s interest in the colourful life of ordinary people – who sold fish, worked the streets and entertained the bus queues.
Middleton received many awards and considerable recognition throughout his career but critical response to his work was always modified by a confused reaction to his numerous stylisic changes. Those changes may have affected Middleton’s commercial success but they did not alienate the poets, including Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney, who have made a number of references to his work in their poems. George McClelland first met Middleton in the 1960s and began to acquire many of his works. A number of acquisitions in the early 1970s helped fund a visit by Middleton to Australia in 1972. In 1973 McClelland Galleries International showed 27 watercolours based on this trip.