Video: Ballard at the Ormeau Baths Gallery
Watch video from Belfast as artist Brian Ballard stages a 50-year retrospective
Brian Ballard is as chilled an artist as you're likely to meet.
Although he has somehow managed to stage his 50-year retrospective in Belfast's Ormeau Baths Gallery – a much-loved space which has not hosted an exhibition since losing its funding in 2006 – Ballard takes it all in his rather large stride, as if walking on the moon, the archetypal east coast hippy beamed in to Belfast direct from Ocean Drive circa '68.
'Yeah, yeah,' he exclaims with McCartneyesque wonderment as we take in his larger, more recent canvases, which he has not had the pleasure of viewing in such a substantial gallery space before. 'They're finally here,' he smiles. 'Finally. It's great. Yeah!'
It's an odd juxtaposition – the trendy establishment figure – but Ballard continues to emanate cool vibes as we move from gallery three to four, both rooms housing paintings for sale at a cost of £11,000 a piece, or thereabouts. I'm told he is willing to negotiate.
Right now, however, Ballard would rather talk about capturing the coastal light in his beloved Donegal than the conveyor belt commercialism that drives so many artists in the 21st century, artists lucky enough to have hit on equally impressive stylistic templates.
There is nothing superficial about Ballard's work, however. He admits to 'attacking' the canvas when painting his now trademark abstract nature scenes in blocks of black and stabs of primary colour, and it is impossible not to believe wholeheartedly in his passion for 'the work'. The act of painting is 'violent', a compulsion for him. His paintings sell for large sums because they are worth it.
Ballard does not like to talk about paintings as commodities – he has a very personal connection with many of the works on show in Ballard at the Baths: Paintings 1964 – 2014, to give the show its full title – and to walk through the four gallery spaces is to observe how a lifelong love affair with paint manifested itself as Ballard evolved from fine art student to elder statesman still working in his early 70s.
He will never part with the 'special ones', as he calls them, works produced before 1972 that mark breakthroughs in style, eureka moments, personal milestones. He would rather keep them close, even if they are hidden away in his studio, than sell them and never see them again. He is his own most ardent collector.
In the video above, Ballard – who studied in Belfast and then Liverpool College of Art, and has since exhibited across Europe – talks about his love of colour, large canvases and larger vistas.
'I hop in my Volkswagen camper van and head to the beach,' he says of his creative routine. 'I carry the canvases over the dunes and just paint. Yeah, that's what I love. To paint. Isn't that great? Yeah!'
Ballard at the Baths runs in the Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast until December 6, with Ballard in residence most days.