The John Hewitt hosts Clinton Kirkpatrick's bold vision of the city as a particoloured land of giants
'Hello Belfast. Let’s Take a Little Walk' by Crumlin-born artist Clinton Kirkpatrick is an an exuberant and particoloured land of the giants-style exhibition at The John Hewitt bar on Donegall Street.
The eponymous painting sees one of the mythological giants of Ulster reborn and stepping, Godzilla-like, across an unrecognisably verdant and sun-kissed Belfast. The title refers to the customary greeting of rock gods visiting these shores, as our behemoth strikes an opening power-chord across the severed arm of Belfast’s modern Gog and Magog, Samson and Goliath.
The giant’s mouth is a piscine socket of teeth, the ear halfway towards a horn. The rock god here is literal, the sky overhead dominated by a looming moon, ready to crush our visiting luminary as he tears through the sun-dappled shipyards.
'Miss City Hospital', meanwhile, features another giant, this one demonstratively female, as indicated by her bell-like yellow hair and matching high heels. She is actually wearing the City Hospital, the hemline frayed like bunting, the building itself attached by the sort of buttoned down braces that preserve Mickey Mouse’s dignity.
Her arm is an amorphous multi-jointed blob, bubblegum pink and appearing to melt as the palm braces the wall of the building, the long fingers dripping down the sides. She stands on a piece of anonymous Ulster veldt against a uniform blue velvet sky, grinning clownishly.
'In the Hewitt', appropriate enough to the venue, features the familiar green gables and tiled floor of the pub from which a blackcurrant flavoured giant looms, clutching a surfboard-sized pint of Guinness. He stares lugubriously out of the doors, the plush lips large as a sofa resting gently on knuckles, the eyebrows John Barleycorn tufts, the eyes staring.
Indeed, the eyes look incapable of blinking, appearing to be sutured open. One is inevitably reminded of the Ludovico technique from A Clockwork Orange.
'Cave Hill Kiss', represented twice here as both print and oil on canvas, sees our giant delivering fiery kisses to the sleeping profile of Cave Hill, here lent lips and cheek-bones. In the print version, which I prefer, the giant is a Wicker Man sun, slipping behind the dozing landscape, which is shredded with orange and lemon pieces like thick-cut marmalade. The grain of the paper and the saturation of the ink mitigates the acid colouration.
In the painted version there is no such relief and our burning giant, a saucy Surtr, clutches a bunch of pin-wheel flowers in a disembodied kebab slab of an arm that floats over the landscape. Both the giant and Cave Hill have the sort of exaggerated hub-cap cheekbones I’ve not seen outside of a Terry Bradley painting – make of that what you will.
The diagonal composition sees our hero, eyes clamped shut for once, pressing home his advantage. He looks as though he is after more than a kiss for his garage forecourt bouquet.
'City Hall Party Hat' is the very literal title for this print as our bulging-eyed colossus, now sporting scant hair and an earring, wears the City Hall as a crown. And that’s it.
With 'Titanic Sailing', again presented in both print and painted formats, it is the print version that wins out, the composition more cramped but more energetic: a baleful green giant yelling 'Yo ho ho' as he sails the Titanic Building through choppy waters under a blood-red sky, rippled with gold.
The painted version sees a distinctly worried green monster, the submersible hulk, piloting the Titanic over a naïve version of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, water rising up from the ocean like umbrella handles.
Finally, 'Exotic Belfast Bird' might be my favourite piece here and, unsurprisingly, it’s also a print. It sees the exotic bird as an embarrassed dodo trapped inside of Rise – known to the hoi polloi as 'the Balls on the Falls'. The colour is lovely, the abstraction, the design and composition are satisfying and nicely realised.
In the main Kirkpatrick’s acknowledgement of the plasticity of his medium is pushed too far, the hot wax of his figures dripping down the canvas. The intrusive fried egg eyes and the searing acidity of his colours attempt to lend Belfast a vibrancy peculiarly at odds with a landscape of pubs, hospitals and shipyards. It’s a bold effort – perhaps rather too bold.
Hello Belfast runs in the John Hewitt until February 28.