Video: Belfast Faces and Famous Places
Watch video from Brian John Spencer's exhibition of satirical caricatures at Common Grounds café
Brian John Spencer is something of an enigma, as his rather schizophrenic website – which alternately states that 'Brian is a writer', 'Brian is a speaker,' 'Brian loves typography' and so on and so forth – aptly demonstrates.
Having graduated from Queen's University with a degree in law, Spencer began treading many paths when he found himself out of work. 'Because Queen's churns out 250-odd law graduates every year, despite the fact that there are not enough jobs to go around,' he says. 'And it's the same in London. So you have to diversify.'
With that mantra in mind, Spencer began contributing to the Huffington Post website as a blogger, on everything from social media law to Northern Irish political faux pas. He has also set himself up as a public speaker, and launched his own digital legal consultancy, LegalWire.
Yet, while he can talk at length and with infectious enthusiasm about all of the above, his ever-active mind seems to be most stimulated by the topic of art. He loves everything about it, he says – the act of drawing, of painting, of producing caricatures, of challenging preconceptions, of building bridges, of making people laugh and smile and grimace in response.
Spencer is well used to provoking strong reactions with his eye-catching satirical contributions to the Slugger O'Toole website. His caricatures of the likes of Edwin Poots MLA and the now retired Ian Paisley Sr have long accompanied articles either written by himself or others on the considerable Slugger roster.
'I began drawing whilst at university,' Spencer recalls. 'Doodling during lectures, making cartoons of professors – though they didn't know it at the time. I'm passionate about law and the challenges that it faces in the digital age. I'm passionate about writing. I write about whatever springs to mind, blog about things that interest me. But art is my calling. I love it.'
Spencer currently has two exhibitions running in Belfast, one, entitled Horse Meat, at Deane and Decano restaurant on the Lisburn Road, and the other, Belfast Faces and Famous Places, at the Common Grounds café in the Holylands area.
It's an appropriate venue for the exhibition, according to Spencer the firebrand. 'Because it's not your average Starbucks or Costa,' he explains, going on to describe No Alibis Bookstore on Botanic Avenue as 'a lovely independent bookstore fighting against the tyrannical forces of Amazon'.
Both venues feature in the exhibition: the former is represented by a series of caricatures of the people who work there, while the latter is captured in a sunny watercolour with its well-known proprietor, David Torrans, stood outside, waving for each and every one to come in and pull up pew.
Elsewhere there are images of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, superstar golfer Rory McIlroy, comedy kingpin Frank Carson, Olympic gold medalist Dame Mary Peters, poets Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney and John Hewitt, and, of course, the requisite Ian Paisley, circa 1980, yelling into the void with fists firmly clenched.
But the image that Spencer spends most time talking about is his caricature of Alliance party leader, David Ford, which he was lucky enough to show to the esteemed politician during a chance meeting in a shop in Belfast recently. Watch the video above to discover what Mrs Ford thought of that, and for a detail-by-detail demonstration of how to draw David Ford yourself.
Belfast Faces and Famous Places runs in Common Grounds café until July 31.