Belfast Telegraph

Artist Graeme Foster behind Lyra McKee tribute hopes to never have to paint another one like it

Foss Artist with his painting that is currently part of this years Royal Ulster Academy Exhibition in the Ulster Museum. Photo by Peter Morrison
Foss Artist with his painting that is currently part of this years Royal Ulster Academy Exhibition in the Ulster Museum. Photo by Peter Morrison
A detail from his tribute to the late Lyra McKee
Lyra McKee
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

A Northern Ireland artist has said he hopes the country does not face another tragic death like that of murdered journalist Lyra McKee.

Graeme Foster (52) from east Belfast was speaking after one of his paintings, titled RIP Lyra, was exhibited as part of the 2019 Royal Ulster Academy exhibition in the Ulster Museum.

The artist, known as Foss, was appearing at the annual exhibition for the first time and sold the painting on New Year's Eve.

Lyra (29) was shot dead by the New IRA during a riot in the Creggan area of Londonderry last April.

Graeme's paintings are based on growing up in Northern Ireland and focus on the little two-up two-down terrace houses of his native Belfast.

Foss is a regular fixture at St George's Market and has been selling his art there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday since turning his talent into a full-time career around six years ago.

It was as a pupil at Orangefield Primary and High School that Graeme first developed an interest in art.

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But his true talent was cast aside for many years when he followed his family into various factory jobs and the Harland and Wolff shipyard.

"At school, art class was something that you got through but eventually my love of painting as a boy was put to one side," he said. "I'm from a working-class background so I just became factory fodder, which is what most people did during the Troubles to stay safe.

"But any job I was in I always added a little flair to it and it was done in an artistic way.

"I sat silent for most of my life as I'm very sensitive but was also aware of sound and colours.

"It was only when I started to paint again in my 40s when I became a dad to my son Conor and had some time on my hands that everything started to come out.

"Art soon became my way of communicating with people.

"The hunger had stayed with me all through those years and luckily I seem to be quite good at it and people like what I do."

Graeme's large oil painting paying tribute to Lyra McKee has been on display at the Ulster Museum since October.

But it will soon be packed off to its new anonymous owner in Switzerland after the exhibition closes tomorrow.

While Graeme says it is a great start to the year, he hopes the death of Lyra is a topic he will not have to cover ever again.

"Her death had a big impact on me because it seemed like history was repeating itself," he added.

"The tragedy was that she lost her life when she seemed to be doing so well and with everything to live for, but she was robbed because of an old argument.

"That painting could have been from any year but I hope I never have to paint it again, even though I know that I will," he added.

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