Exhibition, ‘Belfast Faces and Famous Places’

Belfast Faces and Famous Places - Brian John Spencer
‘Belfast Faces and Famous Places’ opened at Common Grounds (16-17 University Avenue) on June 7 and runs until mid-July.

I studied law and french at university but couldn’t suppress the impulse to draw. Doodling as others transcribed lectures and lessons. The impulse was especially towards converting people and events into line and ink. So there’s a lot of QUB lecturers caught up in my sketchbook. The other outlet was the venerable student newspaper, the Gown. A publication that can count Martyn Turner, resident political cartoonist at the Irish Times as an alumnus.

Then I ventured onto Slugger back in December 2010. Balancing the quest to build a career in law all the while. My work has evolved since then and has been on the mark, off the mark and everything else.

Then when I graduated I found that I was one among a glut of law graduates looking to get into a profession that was painfully contracting. It was simple: the supply and demand ratio for lawyers was way out of step and the legal curriculum was a bad fit for practice.

The president of the Law Society of England and Wales, Des Hudson recently said (June 23 2013) before the publication of the Legal Education and Training Review that “thousands of middle-class graduates… will never secure jobs in the legal profession.” The Legal Education report has since called for a cut in the intake and other curriculum reforms.

I had worked this out a year or two ago. Though it seems that law student numbers in Northern Ireland are as buoyant as ever. As for jobs…

Moving on. Growing up in the middle class echelons of Northern Ireland Ireland I’d been told that I had to work in the professions. But realising that it was “the legal economy stupid” and that there was no reasonable change of getting a job as a paralegal, never mind as a solicitor, I reluctantly dropped the conventional middle class “profession think”. Painful as it was at the time.

So in a difficult situation I did as Neil Gaiman said to do in his famous commencement speech: ‘I made good art’. The ‘make good art’ excerpt from the speech in full:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

So yea I’ve dropped the law job idea (seems stupid with hindsight) and am now pursuing a career as an artist and writer. And the role of political cartoonist falls in their somewhere. I do commercial illustration, live drawing, workshops etc. You can see a fuller portfolio of my work here.

But the point of this post is to give you an introduction and overview of the first formal exhibition of my work since GCSE (2004), ‘Belfast Faces and Famous Places.’

The exhibition is running at one of Belfast’s finest independent coffee shops, Common Grounds (@commongroundsni), 16 – 17 University Avenue, Belfast. Or just opposite the road from the McClay Library at Queen’s. Stuck in the middle of the Holy Lands if you’re still unsure.

The exhibition opened June 7 and Slugger regular Alan Meban got an interesting audio recording of Eamonn Mallie’s brief commencement talk and conversation with the artist, myself.

Amanda Poole also ran a review on her Facebook page. She doesn’t have a blog but I have a copy on my blog here.

The exhibition will run until the end of the first week of July, so there’s plenty of time for you to still get there.

Why ‘Belfast Faces and Famous Places’? Well, for the simple reason that I wanted to draw out and celebrate what’s really good about Belfast. It’s cherished independent businesses. The standard landmarks. And some of the faces that have imagination and really want something different for Belfast or have managed to do it through their sporting success or otherwise. I’ve also looked back at some of the men behind the design and construction of the Titanic. The two cranes have been done so much that it’s cliche, so I looked at the men specifically.

Any way onto the work. The full collection can be seen here and I’ve included some of my favourite and most Slugger relevant pieces below.

The work is for sale and I hope to have copies and merchandise available in the near future. If anyone wants to contact me I’m at www.brianjohnspencer.com and active on Twitter (@brianjohnspencr).

“How to Draw David Ford”:

How to Draw David Ford - Brian John Spencer

The independent and much loved bookstore on Botanic Avenue, No Alibis:

No Alibis - Brian John Spencer

George Best:

George Best - Brian John Spencer


Mick Fealty, editor Slugger O'Toole - Brian John Spencer

Rory McIlroy:

Rory McIlory - Brian John Spencer

The symbol of hope and a sign of the future for the north side of Belfast city centre, the Hudson Bar:

The Hudson Bar, Belfast - Brian John Spencer

Full gallery available here. Also, my chat with the face of Common Grounds, “Steve”, is available here where we talk about what the shop does and the values it stands for.

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