Belfast Telegraph

Broadcaster Eamonn Mallie making news as the avid art buff auctions some of his collection

By Staff Reporter

A portrait of poet Michael Longley by noted Ulster artist Basil Blackshaw is one of more than 30 pieces from the collection of the well-known broadcaster, journalist and art lover Eamonn Mallie which will go under the hammer in Dublin later this month.

Works by Neil Shawcross, Tom Carr, Rita Duffy, Robert Ballagh and William Crozier are owned by Mr Mallie, who became a personal friend of the artists as he amassed his collection over the decades.

After recently downsizing, he found he had far more artworks than he could ever hope to hang or display, and has now decided that the time is right to let some of them find a new home.

The award-winning journalist's abiding interest in literature is reflected in numerous portraits of writers, including Ross Wilson's portrait of Lorca, Philip Flanagan's bronze bust of Seamus Heaney, and Robert Ballagh's portrait of Patrick Kavanagh, which Mallie commissioned especially from the distinguished artist.

Ballagh's group of 'cut-out' figures at an exhibition were permanent features in Mallie's home in south Belfast, where they stood six inches from the wall where other artworks hung, conveying a sense of being in a gallery.

The four figures - a young woman, a suited man, a woman in a yellow mac and a child (actually the artist's daughter Rachel) - are all admiring the exhibit.

The auctioneers have put an estimated value of €10,000 (£8,900) on the set.

The highlight of the collection is the numerous works by Blackshaw, including not only his portrait of Longley, but also 'Night Rider', a large late work which the auctioneers estimate may go for around €100,000 (£89,000).

Speaking of the Longley portrait, created in 1989, Mr Mallie said: "Blackshaw's portrait of arguably Ireland's greatest living poet Michael Longley is another masterwork."

Describing the manner and context in which it was painted, he said: "Michael (Longley) had gone to Blackshaw's studio out in Antrim to sit for him.

"But Basil struggled to get a handle on the sitter for a considerable time, deciding the undertaking wasn't working.

"In fact, he thought he had totally lost it. After some further observation Blackshaw told me he pulled the portrait together rather quickly to his surprise, and simply stopped, knowing to continue might result in his losing what he had achieved.

"What he captured in so little activity on the canvas is very revealing.

"The approach is minimalist, deploying thin oil paint while allowing the canvas to do a lot of the work for him. Clearly some rubbing, sponging and use of a rag took place."

Given Mallie's profession in a place and time wracked by political tensions, intrigue and of course so many tragedies, it is significant that he should have some work that reflects the Troubles.

Ballagh's 'Feile an Phobail' is one such piece.

Commissioned for use on a poster for the West Belfast Festival in 1993, the artwork depicts a concrete bollard, the type used by the Army to block border roads.

But in this instance the mass of concrete is splitting open with new growth breaking through and a dove of peace emerging, like a butterfly from out of a chrysalis.

Painted in 1993, this piece by a politically astute artist pre-dated the IRA ceasefire, which was announced in August 1994. The painting's value is estimated at €4,000 (£3,500).

The collection, coupled with Mr Mallie's engaging personal stories and recollections, make the art come alive - and the auctioneers are confident the paintings and sculptures will encourage a new generation of collectors to dip their toes into the art world.

But, as Mallie wryly stated, he doesn't expect to stop buying works any time soon.

"You don't get cured that easily!"

The pieces from the Mallie collection will form part of Adam's auction of Important Irish Art, which will take place at its St Stephen's Green rooms in Dublin on November 22.

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