Starkness Coloured by Life Experience

Article excerpt

Byline: By Tamzin Lewis

It may look black and white, but there are shades of grey for artist Conor McGrady, who talks to Tamzin Lewis.

Conor McGrady is carefully unrolling one of his large-scale drawings on the floor of The Customs House gallery when a bloke wanders in to see what he is up to.

Half a pint of Guinness in hand, he takes a look at the small pictures Conor has already stuck on the walls.

`I only look at art when I am drunk,' he says. `But this is good, I like this. I am being drawn into these pictures.'

This is definitely Conor's intention. Many of his stark black and white drawings of abandoned buildings and deserted forest tracks brim with tension precisely because they are empty.

They are imbued with the eerie silence of either past or potential violence. And Conor wants the onlooker to fill in the blanks.

He says: "I'm inviting the viewer to think about what is missing. I look at urban, rural and domestic spaces where there is tension.

"And I want to create a mood of unease. You don't know what is round the next corner."

There is a sense of bleakness and austerity in these drawings (although they are painted with gouache, he calls them drawings). Streets are empty because families have been forced to flee, cars are torched, and policemen in full body armour carry shields and batons.

The pictures are political, but Conor doesn't intend his work to be polemical. Nor is it confined to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, where he grew up.

Conor, 35, from Belfast, says: "Ireland is the jumping off point for a lot of this work, but it isn't confined to Ireland. It is about conflict, abuse of power, control and ethnic cleansing. None of my work is directly about Ireland, I want it to be universal, but not so universal it doesn't reach people."

Conor left Northern Ireland in 1992 to study Fine Art at Northumbria University.

"Living in Newcastle enabled me to look objectively at life in Belfast for the first time. I realised Belfast was an abnormal situation. There were a high number of bombings and shootings in the area and I grew up thinking that was normal.

"Ireland is on the way to slowly getting resolved and is a vastly changed landscape to the one I left. …