Conor Cafe Hangs New Shawcross Works

The Northern Irish Artist celebrates Penguin Book covers

Celebrated Belfast-based artist Neil Shawcross will unveil a colourful new range of canvasses at Conor Cafe on June 30 to celebrate his love of Penguin Books. Shawcross has created seven large scale replicas of different Penguin titles in the distinctive primary colours used by the famous paperback company.

The seven new paintings will grace the walls of the popular south Belfast restaurant in the year that Penguin celebrates its 75th anniversary. Titles that Shawcross has interpreted include FL Green’s Odd Man Out, Lynn Doyle’s Ballygullion, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man.

'I have been working on the original image of Penguin Books for more than 20 years,' said Shawcross. 'It is one of the classic icons of 20th century design. It has two elements that are very significant in the way I paint – colour and line. There is a beautiful symmetry about this design, which I really love.'

Four of the new acrylic works are seven feet by four and a half feet to reflect the dimensions of the original books. They will be hung on the main wall facing the entrance of the restaurant. Three smaller paintings will hang on the opposite wall. The exhibition will continue until August 28.

The new works coincide with a major exhibition of Shawcross's earlier Penguin-inspired water colours, which opens at the Naughton Gallery in Queen’s on the same day. It is the first time there has been an exhibition devoted to this aspect of his work. 'The Naughton Gallery exhibition features 20 original watercolours all depicting different Penguin titles. It is a perfect location because of its proximity to the new library at Queen’s,' Shawcross said.

Shawcross’s Penguin Books are reminiscent of the brand-led imagery of pop art works, such as Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell Soup cans.

'Everything I do is an emotional or gut response rather than cerebral,' Shawcross added. 'I have a twin brother, Tony, who also went to art college, but while I went on to study painting he went into graphic design. There could be a subconscious link which explains my love of design.'

The hard-working artist says his studio resembles a grocer’s shop: 'I just love walking around supermarkets and looking at the packaging. Even if I don’t use the product, I often buy them for their designs and colour.'

Conor Cafe co-owner Manus McConn has known Shawcross for many years and has displayed dozens of his works at the cafe. 'Every time the canvasses change there is a feeling of sadness because I get so used to what is on the wall. But there is always an excitement about a new display of Neil’s work. I am sure the public will love these images of Penguin books.'

For more information about the exhibits check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide or go to Conor Cafe.