12 November 2005

COLIN MIDDLETON: Plaque honours artist who inspired the poets

Belfast Telegraph

By Eddie McIlwaine
12 November 2005

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Click to view - 'Syeamores Ballygrainey' by Colin Middleton - photo from >>here

A PAINTER whose canvasses inspired the poets is being honoured today with an Ulster History Circle blue plaque.

It is being unveiled at the former home of Colin Middleton (1910-1983) at 6 Victoria Road, Bangor, by his daughter Jane.

Middleton, whose paintings are more in demand today than ever, was largely self-taught.

~~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 buy 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.

The plaque, the placing of which is supported by North Down Council, will be a huge attraction in the seaside resort where the artist used to be a popular figure either strolling on the prom or working on another canvas.

"His work derived its strength from his sheer passion and his interest in the colourful lives of ordinary folk," says Dr James Hawthorne, the former BBC chief, who is now at the History Circle and has been working on the Middleton plaque for some months. It was his fondness for the ordinary things in life that came across in his canvasses that prompted poets like Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley to mention Middleton in their writings.

Meanwhile, another blue plaque is going up on Monday, this time in honour of Franciscan scholar Aodh Mac Aingil (1571-1626). It will be unveiled in the garden of the St Patrick's Centre of Downpatrick ? his home town ? by Senator Maurice Hayes.

Bishop Mac Aingil was a scholar in philosophy and theology as well as being a writer of poems in Irish and had a tremendous influence in Ireland and in Rome too, says Dr Hawthorne.

"He was the personal envoy from the Earl of Tyrone in Philip 111 of Spain," he said

However, when Mac Aingil was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1626 he died before he could get back to Ireland to take up office.

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