Wednesday 29 October 2014


Linenhall Street

We travelled from the Giant’s Causeway - see: - down to Belfast at a leisurely pace, stopping whenever we chose to, arriving late in the day after neglecting our schedule. Why should any experience be modified by a pompous preconception of time, place or circumstance? Not wishing to face the challenge of finding accommodation in the unknown hubbub of the big city at this time on a Saturday evening, we drove around in the maze of motorways bypassing Belfast and, in the twilight, discovered the small village of Moira. It turned out to be a good find. We asked at the local pub for accommodation but this establishment was for alcohol only. The noise seemed to confirm this with everyone apparently having a good time. They all wanted to help. We were directed by the rowdy consensus to a nearby building where, in spite of its anonymous appearance, we were greeted on the street at the doorway, told where to park, guided in, and shown a room directly above the road: home for the evening. Had there been some planning, collusion, scheming involved here? Opposite this un-named guesthouse was what was claimed to be the oldest pub in Ireland. It was indeed a convivial place to enjoy a quieter drink and a pleasant dinner before retiring for the evening.

Waterguard Offices

The Crown Bar

The next morning, after an enjoyable breakfast, we chatted to the proprietor of the B&B and his assistant. They enthusiastically gave us advice on getting to Belfast and on what one might do there on a Sunday morning. Both were typically Irish - genuinely friendly and purposefully helpful in a quirky manner, with a determination for us to make the most of our short stay. We followed the directions and soon reached a sleepy, Sunday-morning Belfast. The city was surprisingly empty and quiet, but this did not make parking any easier. Happily, feeling very pleased with ourselves, we found a parking bay near the city centre. A young man stepped out of the nearby terrace, so, being uncertain, we asked him if one could park in this place. There were no obvious signs to make times and conditions clear. Although he was doubtful about parking rules, his advice was like the response in the classic Irish joke that, when asked which direction to take at a branch in the road, the local Irishman gives the instruction: “I wouldn’t go that way.” In Northern Ireland, the real-life version was: I wouldn’t park there; the inspectors are around frequently and the fines are large. Even on a Sunday? Shrug. The joke had a better outcome.

McConnell Property

Arthur Square showing The Spirit of Belfast sculpture by Dan George

North Donegall Square

Not being happy with this vague response, and not choosing to risk a whopping fine, we opted to move to the parking station that our Belfastian advisor said was just around the corner: and it was! Driving doubtfully, uncertainly down the dim entry ramp, we moved into a huge, cavernous void sandwiched between two grim concrete slabs. The vast, dark concrete-columned space could accommodate hundreds of vehicles, but it was completely empty: totally void. Why did we ever choose to listen to the ignorant local when it seemed that Belfast was deserted, with there being no apparent demand for Sunday parking? With a degree of frustration and annoyance we chose a space near the lifts and took the elevator up to what was said to be ground level. We stepped out into a huge, slickly appointed shopping centre, empty and closed like the remainder of this city. We meandered through the cliché multi-levelled, glassy voids with no interest or enthusiasm for the array of standard shops, until we reached a side road and walked towards the larger street nearby. Public civic place always has a different feel to the spaces in shopping centers that seek to replicate the vibrancy of a city street. Disappointingly, we arrived close to where we had chosen not to park.

Belfast Metropolitan College

The Crown Bar corner

Corner Callender and Chichester Streets

How does one start to look and see in a new city? We strolled along aimlessly, alert for everything, expecting nothing. One always has to carefully manage the time one spends on looking, seeing and feeling, and the time taken peering through the lens, framing and clicking. The camera can take over the whole experience if one is not wary. The irony is that more time can be spent on perusing the images captured by this gadget than in participating in the city itself: ‘selfie-looking’ could describe the activity that ignores the real world in favour of MY images. There was much to intrigue. Belfast had grand buildings with a different feel to those of Dublin. Dublin was a random mess, poetically layered and cluttered around a small stream full of stories, and streets full of ghosts and Guinness signs. Belfast was grander, more rigorous; tougher. It was structured and pompous, like Glasgow without its native flair and brash humour that adds a layer of happy cynicism to its acclaimed boldness. There was no surprise with this similarity as Glasgow is a mere stone’s throw away. Some of Belfast’s architects and builders, or perhaps their inspiration, must have come from neighbouring Scotland. We found a patisserie so stopped for a croissant and coffee - French Belfast breakfast. We decided to stroll along the other side of the road in the opposite direction to see the side of the street we had just passed by, under. We had no particular aim other than to explore and experience this city as efficiently and effectively as possible: to let it talk to us; being what it wants to be. The B & B programme for the day had been forgotten in favour of ad hoc discovery.

City Hall

Assembly Buildings

Belfast was easy to understand, to learn. It felt familiar: Glasgowish formal. The landmarks were dominant and became friendly references as they reappeared rearing up again and again from different directions in various contexts, reminding while gathering more beautiful buildings within their ambience of acquaintance. We passed the grand and ceremonial City Hall and eventually reached a market building at what seemed to be the end of the road: St George’s Market. The folk at the guesthouse had mentioned this place that we had just stumbled upon. It was a wonderful Victorian brick structure similar to the marvelous Dublin markets that we had luckily walked by on our last day in the city as we were rambling through its ‘unknown’ parts. St. George’s had a decorative industrial irony about it: sweet and sour. We moved into the building to discover where all the activity in Belfast was concentrated on this sleepy Sunday. The market was crowded; the space filled with noises of commercial activity, smells of cooking food, and flooding natural light from the industrial skylights over. Row after row of stalls were arrayed under a finely detailed steel-framed roof zigzagging above the tabled crafts and foods. It was a typical market where wares were displayed at individual stores for passersby to peruse, take pleasure in and purchase. The buzz stimulated an urge to buy. There is something unique about such places that highlight how barren and staged the voids of corporate shopping centres really are.

St. George's Market

St. George's Market interior

After admiring many bits and pieces, we found ourselves at a table spread with eye-catching drawings that, surprisingly, were printed on ‘100% cotton,’ not Irish linen tea towels, the classic cliché souvenir. Ironically the business name was ‘Flax Fox Designs.’ It was indeed a cunning ploy to use cotton for Irish craft: crafty. We had just passed something similar, images that were prints on pure Irish linen, but the drawings on cotton were the ones that intrigued. There was something too twee about the linen images, cute and indulgently sweet, sentimental like birthday card illustrations can be. Those on cotton displayed a naively bold, free and confident hand. They were uniquely architectural, illustrating buildings of Belfast, the landmarks and historical monuments that we had just walked past and into; those city icons that we were using as our directional references. One was purchased, perhaps as a souvenir – see: ; maybe just to show how we appreciated the effort, the skill, the thought: then, as an afterthought, another was picked up, maybe as a gift: see also -

Ulster Hall print

St. George's Market

There was much of interest to purchase in the marketplace, but memories of airports and the recollection of those that we had to go through on our way home, modified all of our temptations - nullified them. Even the food was passed by, as we had enjoyed an excellent breakfast supplemented by the French finale. We eventually moved outside again to what was now a familiar Belfast, sunny and breezy, to discover more side streets filled with ‘arts and crafts’ buildings, not more markets, but buildings from the turn of the last century. Macintosh must have been known in Belfast. We entered a beautiful church during its morning service, (St. Malachy's in Alfred Street**), then walked back to the main street that now was surprisingly busy. All the pedestrians were heading with a degree of determination towards what turned out to be the Christmas market. We were swept up in the rush and found ourselves back at the City Hall that had been transformed into a cluttered fairground for Christmas. This fun gathering was really crowded and again presented us with more temptations to be overcome. The easiest way to avoid the oppressive numbers and the enticements was to leave. It was getting late. We had to get close to Dublin that night, ready to leave the next day.

City Hall Christmas Market

We went back to the shopping centre that was now a hive of activity. It had come to life. Did Belfast still keep the Sabbath, just on the Sunday morning? We took the lift down to the car park that, astonishingly, was now completely full. We had to quietly apologise and thank the young man who told us to come here. We paid and drove off down the east coast to the border detour and beyond. We will have to come back one day and spend more time in Northern Ireland. It was more than we had expected.

Ulster Hall

Ulster Hall print

Ulster Hall - photograph

The flight home was long and tiring. It was some months later that we took these tea towels out, rediscovered them as one does with these things that usually turn out to be surplus to any need. Souvenirs do help one recall: all of our time in Ireland came back to us. One tea towel was picked up. Rather than use this beautiful image as a utility item, the printed cotton was edged and hung as a screen on a window. The other tea towel was put aside again, perhaps to be rediscovered on another occasion or just forgotten. Souvenirs nearly always turn out to be unwanted impulse purchases, sundries. The window hanging looks very pretty, intriguing. As one sits and looks at what appears to be a crude sketch, one can learn much about Ulster Hall. Drawings highlight how one sees: see –  Drawings touch the person drawing and the one reading it, perusing it, looking at it, seeing it. Eyeing something is a complex experience. There is something vital and alive in this ‘between’ zone that is never there in a CAD document. The drawing shows how the person with the pen has seen, felt; how the hand has moved to record what the mind has interpreted, confidently or with some trepidation, hesitation or doubt. CAD images are always slickly assured and anonymous; they make handicraft seem messy, less, as all machines do with their apparent perfection in performance.

Ulster Hall print

The window hanging

The text in the corner of the cotton panel named the image: Ulster Hall by Flax Fox   100% cotton  The lines delineated the broad form, replicating the perspective enlargement of the front of the building and filled in the details that were deemed essential to the eye – those that caught the eye in this reading. The semi-circular window heads; corner quoins; balustrade parapets; finials; and more were sketched with a certainty that emboldened the hand to record shapes firmly, but freely – with panache. There was a quality of dancing in the movements recorded by the line work.

The Flax Fox prints all have a distinctive character

The site tells more:
Well Flax Fox is me, Danielle Morgan, pictured up above holding my St George's Market screen print. I'm an artist living in Northern Ireland who likes to sketch local landmarks and buildings. I find drawing from life the best way to capture the character of a building and use screen printing as my preferred way to print. Its so much fun, the possibilities are endless!
Flax Fox has paper based prints and textiles, hopefully there's something for everyone to appreciate.
Happy browsing… from The Fox!

Details of Flax Fox prints

There is an energy, an obvious vitality in this drawing that eludes the photograph: see comments below. The drawing emphasizes aspects, distorts, exaggerates to match the eyeing of the subject. Photographs reproduce the light on the forms, their relationships and colours. They too can change how things are seen – see  but require the shrewd manipulation of the camera and its lens, and the subsequent ‘shopping’ of the outcome. Drawing is more rudimentary, more immediate, more emotive – well, expressive in a different manner that engages the body and the mind.

Ulster Hall

Window hanging detail

The characteristics of the drawing are best experienced rather than reported and described. These subtleties are made more explicit if one considers the proposition made in Arnold Pacey’s Medieval Architectural Drawing: see -  Here the experience of entropy is referred to and used to place various works into a time scale, a hierarchy of perception and understanding. The proposition is that the making of a drawing from the real object, and in Pacey's case from the sculptured version of this object, will give a different outcome to the work that copies from another drawing. The concept is that drawing from ‘life’ selects aspects and details, and forgets others, with the copy of the drawing doing likewise without any knowledge of what the neglected items might have been. The illustration, and the sculpture, becomes more and more schematic as each reproduction does exactly what the first has done, but with an ever-reducing quantity of information. This understanding can explain the failure of all fashions and movements, as well as highlight the unique quality of drawing from life. Photographs reproduce what is before them as modified by the photographer. Drawings include a complexity of looking, seeing, thinking, and transforming these perceptions into another image shaped by the movement of the body and the manipulation of the instrument; a representation to be similarly looked at, seen and thought about under the same name as the original place and the photograph.

 The window hanging

It is an important process to comprehend, since architecture has traditionally relied on drawing for the communication of ideas and specific requirements, down to the last millimetre. Now, instead of the hand and a pen or pencil that needs constant attention to provide the required line work, the profession is using computers – CAD: see -  What emotional input is involved with CAD? How does the equipment change attitudes, approaches and understandings? – see:  There is a difference, as colleagues repeat what one is constantly confronted with – discrepancies in sections and elevations that have toilets, for example, appearing wrongly on three different walls in three different elevations, or, say, sections. What seems clear here is that the machines’ mechanisms manipulate thinking to an extent that any real understanding of space and location is suspended, superseded, squashed by the magic of mirroring; of copy and paste possibilities; of managing a multitude of different ways to achieve the same outcome, making the manipulator feel self-important, truly skilled, effortlessly, free to admire the astonishing appearance of his/her own work, its brilliance. One only has to listen to the banter in the office CAD section to understand the process: What line thickness? How does one do this? Where is so and so? etc. The mind is stretched and distracted by the essentials of the programme that has its own internal structures that take over from those other important considerations inherent in what is being drawn: information that can communicate intent clearly and efficiently, accurately. The odd thing is that this can be achieved with drawings that have none of these qualities, well, other than clarity. Accuracy has everything to do with the information, nothing to do with the drawing.

With the thinking eye and hand, there is a much closer link between the line and the mind, and the questioning checking – the sense of the reader over the shoulder that is always needed if one is not to go astray or miss some important alternate possibility. Creativity is imported into the mechanism of drafting by hand, by instinct. It seems to become distorted by CAD, put aside by the technology that takes over as the core process that demands its integral importance be recognised.

Here the eye and the hand have worked together to give us Ulster Hall, an inaccurate scribble that schematically records what the artist has seen: and yet it is clearly recognizable as an accurate reproduction when one looks at the photograph. The surprise is that there is an element of perspective in the drawing that further distorts the image. The photograph soon clarifies this with its stolid certainty and a defined accuracy. Yet the drawing lives, prances as the eye goes over the building. One eventually admires the skill here. Skill is something irrelevant with CAD beyond knowing the system; it is displaced to become a skill at manipulating a machine, its rules. It is an ephemeral competence only made evident in the process itself. There is nothing personal here.

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Ulster Hall - photograph

Now, after looking at the first image that comes up under the Google Image search for Ulster Hall, I have formed the opinion that these drawings are made from photographs rather than from the building in its context, in situ. What makes me form this opinion is the manner in which the building has been illustrated, incorporating the perspective distortions that result in the wider lower front portion of the building and the illusion of the hip form of the glazed, lean-to awning. The eye, after approaching and moving around the street, would naturally see the building in its complete third dimensional integrity and know its alignments and orientations, seeing it as it is understood. It would be unusual for the eye to record this elevational difference with such exaggeration. Only the photograph specifically highlights these variations. The photograph referred to In Google Images is identical to the drawing. Other sources for other drawings need to be checked to test the theory.#

An angled view of Ulster Hall revealing the wall alignments

The glazed lean-to awning

This observation in no way diminishes the work, but the photographic source offers yet another step to modify perception. Does this fact aid the bold schematic vision? The important understanding of the study of medieval sculpture, that there is a difference between drawing and sculpting from life and copying the drawing/sculpture itself – see: - could explain the sense of difference that we see here. The drawing from the street will always be dissimilar to the drawing from a photograph taken in the street. Canelletto’s views of Venice as seen through the camera obscura highlight this point. This observation refers to the drawing itself, but there is also a significant difference between the two acts. Everyone is able to sense this difference. It is the difference in the quality of the drawing that is more difficult to understand.

The photograph

The painting

The Archibald Prize* of 2009 was won by Guy Maesrti, with an oil painting of the blind aboriginal singer, Geoffrey Garrumul Yunupingu. What was interesting about this image is that it was very similar to the photograph of the singer/song writer on the cover of one of Garrumul’s CDs simply called Garrumul, (highly recommended).The portrait artist claimed that the image was not a copy of the photograph – the Archibald rule is that works have to be painted from life – but it is difficult to believe that the portrait was not at least inspired by this wonderful photograph because of the way that the lens has captured and framed its subject. Everyone can sense the difference between a photograph and the seeing of the subject itself. The seeing is a much more complicated, fluid and rich experience, multifaceted in every way. Viewing the photograph is one-dimensional viewing. A photograph concentrates the image for the eye as the camera has chosen to record it. The unusual perspective of Ulster Hall makes it look as though it has been at least inspired by the photograph, if not copied. Maybe it is this origin that gives the drawings their confident, schematic quality, the photograph having already having removed alternative options of seeing. Portrait painters take photographs in order to capture details, expressions, different light and other fleeting subtleties; to hold these glimpses forever, for later review – for insight and reference rather than for duplication. Photographs aid concentration. It looks as though this singular, distilled attentiveness has been facilitated for the skilled hand to reproduce as a beautiful drawing that embodies energy in a beautiful manner. - in a different way.

In order to test the theory, the St George’s Market tea towel, the other one purchased, was taken out, the building Googled, and the images opened. In the array of photographs revealed, there was a recurring elevation that matched the drawing, but, for some unknown reason, it was rarely taken square on. It was difficult to make any definitive assessment other than note that the drawing itself has a slight skew to it that could have come from the free-flowing hand. The main discrepancy in the drawing is the height of the gable above the brick wall. It is interesting to note that the gable appears to sit lower in the angled photograph, and the openings seem squatter too, more like those in the drawing.

*For more on the Archibald Prize, see:

** It is interesting to note that St. Malachy's Church has the same sideways arrangement as the kirk at Whalsay and Lunna Kirk; see - 

Interior St. Malachy's, Belfast

 View from balcony, St. Malachy's
St. Malachy's Church, Belfast 

View below balcony, St. Malachy's

NOTE: Another drawing of Ulster Hall by Mark Seaton, Yard Gallery, is included here for a comparison of style and technique. This is a more deliberate study that again appears to have used a photograph for its rendering. The building seems to be illustrated at night, with the inner entry screen being depicted. One can assume that it might be tricky to work under the street lighting at night.

A photograph of Ulster Hall - day