Joseph McWilliams (1938 - 2014)

Twelfth Parade, North Queen St, 1991

Oil on canvas

150cm x 197cm

Courtesy of Board of Trustees of National Museums NI © Joseph McWilliams

Joseph McWilliams attended the Belfast College of Art and went on to teach there until his retirement in 1989. In 1986 he established the Cavehill Gallery in North Belfast with his artist wife Catherine McWilliams. Prior to the Troubles, McWilliams mainly painted landscapes, particularly of Cushendun and Donegal, but hearing rioting from his studio in Belfast, he began to feel uninvolved in these paintings. ‘When the Troubles started, the one thing on your mind was the Troubles’, he recalled in later years. Having always painted what he felt, the artist moved away from landscapes, reacting instead to the violence going on around him in his home city, ‘simply and safely in paint’, as he said in 1989.

It is his depictions of marches that McWilliams is most well known for. Anna Liesching, curator of art at the Ulster Museum, has researched McWilliam’s parade paintings. On talking about his decision to look at the parades Joseph said “As a child growing up in Belfast, my earliest memory of the Twelfth of July was hearing the undifferentiated sounds of the marching bands wafting over the city’s rooftops: sometimes loud, sometimes faint as I thought they were part of Belfast’s inner metabolism. For me these pulsating sounds represented a furious otherness; an otherness which clenchedly declared not only what it was, but, more importantly, what it was not...I found that painting helped me bridge the gap. It has a sheltered voice…But the Twelfth of July Parade is also a marvellous, colourful spectacle. Whatever its political or religious base. The simple mechanics of this event appeal to me as a painter. The movement of colour on the streets becomes the textural movement of paint which then develops a life and language of his own and hopefully extends and invigorates the subject.” The rainbow often appears in his work, possibly a connotation of light and optimism in the midst of the darkness of the Troubles.