Creative Exchange exhibition coincides with the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival

Inspired by the dynamic cultural and musical connections between the sister cities of Nashville and Belfast, Compositions at the Waterfront Hall features almost 50 individual pieces of artwork which exploit a range of media, from video installation to acrylic, watercolour to photography.

Katie Blue,
Compositions Exhibition BelfastEach of the nine artists on show - all members of the east Belfast-based Creative Exchange collective - bring their own original style and discipline to the Nashville theme, with varied results.

Junk sculptor and printmaker Katie Blue was inspired by Appalachian blues and folk music to create textural modern ‘quilts’, pieced together digitally rather than by sewing machine.

‘It evolves slowly, traditions change,' remarks Blue. 'Quilt making is handed down from mother to daughter, generation to generation, and folk music evolves in a very similar way.

‘Sometimes the work just flows out of you and evolves very naturally. Sometimes it has a traditional structure - but individual creativity comes through very strongly in that.’

Having collected fabric from Ireland and America, Blue scanned the patterns and created computer generated prints, following complex traditional patchwork patterns to create a modern print. ‘You’ve got the traditional history which is the source material, but a very contemporary, bright, funky end result.’

Other artists have drawn on the commonalities between Nashville and Belfast as river cities, both having grown out of the industrial revolution during the 19th century, acknowledging the impact of the Lagan and the Cumberland on the respective cities, be this through settlement, industry, trade or travel.

Others explore Belfast’s love for Nashville music through etchings of singer/songwriters who will be performing live at the 2010 Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. But not all the artists are keen to reveal the meaning behind the work. Abstract artist Ray Duncan explains.

‘I’ve given up on trying to make paintings which are to do with a particular place - they have their own life, if you like, and that’s where I see some connection with the music, because music is a very abstract thing also.

‘I don’t really like to talk a whole lot about them, because if you do Artwork part of
Compositions Exhibition, Waterfront Hallthen you maybe close out how somebody else will view them, and understand them or get some feeling about them.’

The Creative Exchange visual arts group has had American collaborative and exchange programmes running since its inception 12 years ago, involving over 140 artists travelling from both sides of the Atlantic. Chair of the group, Ian Fleming, points out the similarities he sees in his own paintings to the music of the deep south.

‘It’s very accidental. It’s very spontaneous and that’s what I like a lot about [blues] music – the collaboration, the jamming between a number of musicians. You’re never going to hear the same thing twice and I think that’s a very similar thing with watercolour painting.’

Fleming hopes to expand the exchange programmes further and tour Compositions in Nashville.

‘This is a significant exhibition from all the artists involved. They have all produced a new and exciting selection of artworks. Overall it is without question the show that captures the essence of both cities and their distinctive roots.’

Compositions continues at the Waterfront Hall until February 26.

Eddie Mullan