New Guest Blog; An Artist’s View of Belfast

I love guest blogging with other artists as it allows all of us to see and read about things we might not normally find on our own. Here’s the latest guest blog by photographer Joe Western, a talented guy I met on Facebook (& check out the link to his blog on the right side bar…I’m a guest on his blog as well!):

A Northern Industrial Town
Back in January of this year, I had set out on my first trip to London with some friends. Deciding first to fly into Dublin, then taking a bus up to Belfast for a few days. Unfortunately we never made it to Dublin, and due to a major snow storm, were diverted directly to Belfast. Though I was looking forward to checking out things like The Book of Kels, and the Oscar Wilde House, Northern Ireland’s capitol city had it’s own historical allure – especially music wise – to keep me intrigued…
These photos were taken with the Holga, a cheap plastic ‘toy’ camera with minimal features, utilized by many photographers for the novelty of its often dreamy, and ethereal qualities – or flaws, depending on how you look at it.

The Cathedral Quarter located in the easterly side of the City Centre, is a sort of up-and-coming area. There are galleries such as the Red Barn, and Oh Yeah Music Centre (everyone I met seemed to pronounce it as Oh Yay) which had a fantastic retrospective on the local music scene, displaying everything from a bottle of Thin Lizzy whiskey to one of the Undertone’s leather jackets. Around the corner is The Black Box cafe, which is also a few doors down from what was once the Harp Bar, a local venue which hosted many a punk gig throughout the 70s and 80s. Saint Anne’s Cathedral stands at the corner of Donegal and Academy Street, with a towering Celtic cross adorning its facade. Several blocks down are the burnt out remnants of what once was the North Street Arcade, notable as being the former location of Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations record shop and label – the man who of course introduced the world to a Derry band called the Undertones, as well as other exciting NI bands like Rudi, and The Outcasts.

The Shankill located in the Western part of the city is a dominantly Protestant neighborhood. It directly borders the dominantly Catholic Falls Road area – location of the Sinn Fein headquarters. The two communities are divided by one of the first peace lines to be built at the beginning of The Troubles in the late sixties. On both sides of the wall, large murals in tribute of fallen members of various paramilitary groups adorn the sides of many housing estates. The wall which extends west from the city center and separates the Shankill and Falls Road is not the only peace line that divides the Protestant-Loyalist, and Catholic-Republican communities, there are around 40 separate walls dividing the two communities into many different pockets throughout the city. There are ‘Black Taxi Tours’ which can be arranged, and will take you through these West Belfast neighborhoods to see the various political murals, and whose drivers will explain a bit of the history. A seemingly odd, and slightly morbid attraction in some respects, but I imagine they must be fairly popular, and they will indeed give you a better understanding of the country’s long standing conflict.

A walk down Great Victoria street will lead you past several notable Belfast landmarks. First is the Europa hotel, with a reputation as being Europe’s ‘most bombed hotel’ as well as accommodating The Clash on their famously canceled Belfast debut. Further on down, past the notable Crown Bar, and Queen’s University, you would come to the Belfast Botanical Gardens. Coming down Great Victoria one night, I paused to take in the amazing sight of countless flickering street lights shining in the hills surrounding the city, which could be seen over the rooftops of West Belfast. Though I didn’t capture it on film, it’s the image I recall most vividly when I think of my time in the city.

Johnny Thunders upon visiting Belfast in the late eighties described it as something “like Detroit used to be in 74”, which was at a time when the City Centre was still barricaded and guarded by check points. Since the Good Friday agreement in 1998, which required the IRA to decommission it’s weapons in exchange for the release of political prisoners, violence in the city has been on the downturn. There is still reports of rioting as recently as this year, when Protestants march through Catholic neighborhoods to celebrate King William’s 1690 victory over the Irish, proving that many still hold to their sectarian attitudes. Though Belfast rarely makes it to the top of anyone’s list of travel destinations, let alone in the middle of January, it’s quite a different experience in comparison to the countless stories I’ve heard of people’s visits to Dublin – which more or less amount to a trip to the Guinness Factory, or possibly the Jameson Distillery if daring enough. Most importantly, I gained a much better understanding of Northern Ireland’s historical struggle for independence, and a stronger sympathy for the hardship it’s people have endured over the centuries. We then moved on to spend a few days in London, something I had looked forward to for years, but with the kindness and hospitality shown by those I met in Belfast it left an overall impression that was hard to match.

Barcelona in Black & White

Hi All!
I know it’s been a couple of months since I got back from Barcelona but I’m still working on some of the 200 photos I shot during my trip to this beautiful city. Although Barcelona is FULL of color, and most of the photos I took utilized color film to capture this, I LOVE shooting in B&W film, especially when it comes to some of the gothic architecture in European cities.

So, I shot some B&W 35mm Ilford film, which gives a more grainy, “antique” look to the photos and am very happy with the results. I chose the famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia, to use this film as not only does it have the organic, dripping style of Gaudi, but a geometric, skeletal style of other famous Spanish architects as well. The photo here is a close up of the Gaudi towers located on one side of the structure. You can see some of the cranes and scaffolding since a lot of reconstruction is being done to preserve this amazing cathedral. I took this photo from the inside of the church, which is all stone and cement…this was taken from behind one of the many long, narrow stone openings in one of the towers.

More to come soon…
🙂 Lauren

My Art in Malaysia!

Hope everyone in the heatwave (East Coast, US & elsewhere from what I hear) are staying calm and cool. I wanted to work on a new oil painting but the thought of those fumes in this 100 degree heat wasn’t appealing (I need better ventilation in the Summer!) so I completed a small (8.5″ x 11″) watercolor called “Two Mourners” (part of my “Mystics & Mourners series) for an international small-works group show at an art gallery/center in Malaysia!! Nice that my art can travel even when I can’t! I’ve attached the image at the end of this blog. (signed, matted reproductions available!)

The show is called Miniature Masterpieces Art Exhibition 2010 and will exhibit small works from artists from across the globe at Galerie ASWARA, National Academy of Arts, Culture & Heritage in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in Sept.-Oct. 2010. As soon as I get more info. I’ll post it here!
Take care,

Signed 8×10 repros matted to 11×14 available for $25! Paypal, checks & $ orders accepted. Please contact me to order. Thanks!

Barcelona Blog: Photo essay of this gorgeous city.

Hola! Although I returned from beautiful Barcelona, Spain a few weeks ago, I’ve been busy working on the 200 35mm & digital photographs I shot during my trip. Now, I finally have some ready to share with you, so figured I’d make a mini on-line blog exhibit with some of my favorite images…so off we go to Barcelona!

When I visited this gorgeous city, during late May, the weather was perfect and actually warmer than usual for the time of year (in the high 80’s). There was a cool breeze off the blue-green Mediterranean Sea, which was walking distance from the center of the city. I’ve included photos of the tons of huge fishing boats along the docks as well as the modern boardwalk where people hang out and watch the water and socialize. I was so impressed by how clean Barcelona is and how it’s filled with modern sculpture and ornate architecture including the famous Art Nouveau structures by artists such as Gaudi. One of my favorite buildings of his is the Casa Battlo, which is like walking under the sea, in the body of a great ocean creature…there are NO angles in his buildings…all organic curves…like something out of a fantasy film!

I also visited Gaudi’s Park Guell which was entirely decorated in mosaics and dripping archways, tunnels and spires to accompany the lush palm trees (I saw wild green parrots making nests in them!) and other native plant-life. Street performers are common to see in Barcelona & I watched the talented puppeteer in the photos below at the entrance of the park. You can also see some amazing performers in elaborate costumes along La Rambla in the center of town. This is a wide, long stretch of a brick & mosaic walkway where street performers of all types congregate, cafes and little shops selling everything from birds to plants to souvenirs line the path. It’s a central meeting place/hang out that’s busy at all hours of the day or night, as are many of the huge, palm-lined squares in the city.

Another highlight are the churches and cathedrals, like the amazingly ornate Cathedral of Barcelona. But the most impressive is the world-famous Art Nouveau structure, Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) Cathedral. Another of Gaudi’s masterpieces, it’s like 3 churches melded into one as there were a few architects who designed this structure. Gaudi’s section contains huge, dripping towers and elaborate sculpture & words carved onto every surface, while the rest is very angular and modern with geometric spires and brilliant stained glass windows. It was a 2 hour wait to get inside and walk the huge, narrow towers to the top, but totally worth it!!

These are just a few of the amazing sites I experienced in Barcelona…I hope to put together a complete exhibit with the photos I shot there, especially the abstract, artistic qualities found in structures all over the city, so stay tuned for more info. on that. But in the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this blog as a small glimpse of Barcelona.

Signed, matted (&/or framed) prints are available of these, and more, photos. Sizes & prices are: 5″x7″ (matted to 8″x10″): $25 ea., 8″x10″ (matted to 11″x14″): $50 ea., 11″x14″ (matted to 16″x20″): $75 ea. Prices do not include s/h/insur. Please email me for more info. Paypal is accepted.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your Summer!!
All images (c)May 2010 Lauren Curtis