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Basil Blackshaw, an artist with all-seeing eyes and a disdain for modernity

Humanist funeral for painter sees ceremony ends with Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man

By Angela Rainey

Published 10/05/2016

Artist Basil Blackshaw
Artist Basil Blackshaw
The coffin of artist Basil Blackshaw arrives at Roselawn yesterday
Broadcaster Eamonn Maillie was among the mourners
Artist Alan Quigley was among the mourners
Former boxer Barry McGuigan was among the mourners

Fond memories were recalled at the funeral of painter Basil Blackshaw by his family and a host of other well-known artists.

The Co Antrim artist, who was born in Glengormley but raised in Boardmills outside Lisburn, died on Monday aged 83.

Father to well-known artist Anya Waterworth, he was buried in a wicker coffin in a humanist funeral, the ceremony ending to Bob Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man at Roselawn Cemetery.

More than 100 mourners came to pay their respects. Among them were artists Jack Pakenham and Neil Shawcross, actor Stephen Rea and boxing legend Barry McGuigan.

Mr Blackshaw, who is survived by his partner Helen Falloon, was best known for his paintings of dogs, horses, landscapes and people and was regarded as one of the country's most talented artists.

A dedicated pipe smoker, Mr Blackshaw was wary of modernity and newfangled gadgets and was often heard to say "the old way is the best".

He was described as an artist who "had incredible eyes that were not piercing but all-seeing, was colour-blind but not in the conventional sense", a man who was never judgmental, and "a man who saw myriad shades of black" who did not have a prejudiced bone in his body.

He is also famed for asking former Irish president Mary Robinson to "keep quiet" during a sitting of a portrait he was painting of her.

Jude Stephens was his studio model and friend for more than 30 years, often posing for his famous collection of nudes. She paid tribute in the celebration of his life, saying he had a mischievous sense of humour and deep respect for all thing rural. "My memories of Basil are more than of a gifted artist, they are those of a traditional countryman who connected effortlessly to nature and he lamented the pace of change in especially rural parts of the countryside," she said.

"Sometimes he seemed genuinely puzzled at society's need for sophistication and it was easy to see that he found much of modernity bewildering, even absurd and mostly unnecessary.

"He had the knack of finding comedy in many situations, and anyone who knew Basil inevitably experienced this mischievous sense of humour that was usually lurking just beneath the surface."

She added that she had once asked him what he would have become had he not been a painter, to which he replied "a boxer". Mr Blackshaw, a former pupil of Methodist College, Belfast, was renowned for his elusive yet humble nature.

He impressed his tutors at an early age with his art and won a scholarship from the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts to study in Paris.

Aside from painting he also trained greyhounds which were winners as far away as Harold's Cross and Shelbourne Park in Dublin, and groomed horses.

In 1959 he married an Australian artist Anna Ritchie and three years later she gave birth to their daughter Anya.

He was renowned for being a man of contradictions, calling a spade a spade but also fiercely retaining his privacy. Once he was photographed wearing a paper bag over his head while visiting one of his own exhibitions and only gave his first-ever television interview earlier this year.

He became an associate of the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts in 1977 and won an award for his "sustained contribution to the visual art in Ireland" in 2001.

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