‘The ugliest painting to come to auction for quite some time’
Art critic Eamonn Mallie is selling some of his art collection including an unattractive portrait of Van Morrison
A portrait of Van Morrison, by Basil Blackshaw, is estimated at €5,000-€7,000.
Mallie has reported on the Troubles and the subsequent peace process for decades and is a regular contributor to RTÉ and the BBC. But he’s also a well-known art critic, author and collector. Adam’s said he “has recently downsized, found that he had far too many artworks than he could ever hope to hang or display, and has now decided that the time is right to let some of his art find new homes”.
Not many vendors get to write their own catalogue notes for an auction but then Mallie – an acknowledged authority on Northern Irish art especially – is no ordinary vendor.
Explaining how he first became interested in art, Mallie (now 67) recalls that “we always had fine art on our walls during my childhood, at home on the side of a hill in South Armagh. We had a triptych print of ‘The Pope, John F Kennedy and de Valera’ as well as a print of The Hay Wain, by John Constable.”
But he credits his love of art to the influence of Prof Nigel Glendinning, his Spanish lecturer at Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s. Recalling decades of collecting, he said that “as a collector I always loved the chase, the adventure in pursuing the next painting”. Mallie also found that art was an escape from the “very dark world of killings, bombings, maimings and kidnappings” that he covered as a journalist.
Inevitably, much of his collection is of work by Northern Ireland artists but he also collected art from the Republic and Britain. He has consigned some 40 pieces to the Adam’s auction.
The top lot is Night Rider, by Basil Blackshaw, the Northern Ireland artist who died last year. Mallie knew Blackshaw very well, had his portrait painted by him and edited a lavish monograph about the artist in 2003. This large, acrylic-on-canvas painting – Lot 36 in the auction – is dated December 2001, measures 5ft by 7ft and is estimated at €100,000-€150,000. Mallie bought it directly from Blackshaw and said the image was inspired by the artist’s love of cowboy novels and Hollywood westerns.
Earlier this year, Adam’s sold a painting inspired by the ultimate Hollywood cowboy, Clint Eastwood, by Blackshaw for €22,000 (way above the top estimate of €15,000). Since Blackshaw’s death, scores of his paintings – of varying quality – have appeared at auction.
Among other being offloaded by Mallie is Lot 134, a portrait of Van Morrison by Basil Blackshaw, estimated at €5,000-€7,000 and, arguably, the ugliest painting – by any artist – to appear at auction in quite some time. Mallie was gifted it by the artist. He recalls that while sitting for his own portrait he spotted the painting and Blackshaw explained that “while cleaning his brushes one evening he caught sight of a Dublin newspaper with a photo of Van Morrison and a well-known lady by his side.
Blackshaw was immediately prompted to work on Morrison, choosing to erase the image of his female companion, whose jaw line continues to obtain in the painting. Morrison’s hat and half-lit face were the end product of Blackshaw’s efforts.”
Lot 86 is one of the most appealing pictures in the Mallie collection, a portrait of a Belfast woman of the 1980s: Hazel Martin, St Ives Gardens by Rita Duffy. The oil-on-canvas, measuring 26in by 23in, is estimated at €3,000-€5,000. The painting depicts an “ordinary woman” who lived opposite the artist in St Ives in Stranmillis, Belfast.
Mallie explains: “Hazel was the sister of the well-known radio presenter Ivan Martin. She was unmarried and lived alone in her little terraced house . . . People of my generation easily identify with Duffy’s Hazel Martin. We all had neighbours, aunties or grannies, mirror images of Hazel, wrapped in those big aprons of the day. There is a quiet dignity about Hazel. She felt no compulsion to dye her hair blue to pretend she was ‘middle class’.”
But possibly the most interesting piece in the Mallie collection is Lot 129, Doorway No 10 Downing Street, a sugar-cube sculpture by Brendan Jamison, estimated at €3,000-€5,000. Jamison, aged 38, was born in Northern Ireland in 1979, graduated with a master of fine art in 2004 from the University of Ulster, studied the history of western architecture at Oxford and interactive art at MoMA, New York. In 2003, he developed a pioneering technique of carving sugar cubes into intricate shapes which are then glued together with a special adhesive. He has received commissions to create sugar-cube sculptures in London, Milan, Beijing, Paris and the US.
Jamison made the original Doorway No. 10 Downing Street – using 5,117 sugar cubes – in 2012. Mallie says: “When I saw 10 Downing Street in Jamison’s studio I asked him to give me ‘first option’ on the work given that I had been through the famous door and stood outside it several times in my professional capacity.”
Still, Mallie was too late as the British government bought the piece for display in the hallway of the prime ministerial residence. However, Jamison made a second version, which Mallie bought for an undisclosed sum.