Colin Davidson

Visual Arts

Colin Davidson was born in Belfast in 1968 and educated at Methodist College, Belfast. He graduated with a first class honours degree in in design from the University of Ulster in 1991. In 2003 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Ulster Academy of the Arts (RUA) and in 2006 he was elected as an Academician within the same body. In 2012 he was elected President of the RUA.

His early work featured cityscapes, for example the city of Belfast being observed from high viewpoints, and a significant body of work based around urban scenes viewed through the reflections on glass windows. More recent work has focused on portraits, which make use of thick paint combined with a bold expressive style.

He has exhibited widely, with significant shows in Belfast, Dublin, London, New York, Washington and Paris. Awards have included US/Ireland Alliance Oscar Wilde Award (Los Angeles), BP Portrait Visitors’ Choice Award (National Portrait Gallery, London), Royal Ulster Academy Gold Medal (Belfast) and the Royal Hiberian Academy Keating/Mcloughlin Medal (Dublin).

In 2015, he produced a new body of work, Silent Testimony, reflecting on the stories of eighteen people who are connected by their individual experiences of loss through the Troubles.

“In June 2012 I was asked by Mark Carruthers, the then Chairman of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, if I would consider presenting five of my large-scale portrait paintings of artistic luminaries to a delegation due to visit the theatre the following week. I agreed, and six days later found myself waiting in the large, light-filled foyer at the Lyric with two previous sitters of mine – Michael Longley and Barry Douglas – both standing with their portraits. In the moments before the party arrived, I remember us commenting on the gravity of the meeting taking place in a room just feet away from where we stood.

A single television camera was allowed and, as we tracked this camera coming towards us from behind the lift shaft, the enormity of what I was witnessing hit me. Approaching was the delegation Mark had alluded to in his initial request - HM The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Michael D Higgins (the President of Ireland) and his wife Sabina Coyne, Peter Robinson (the First Minister of Northern Ireland) and Martin McGuinness (the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland). Mark introduced us, and I then walked with HM The Queen and the Deputy First Minister along the line of five paintings, discussing the complexities of painting a face larger than life.

I was born in 1968 and grew up in south-west Belfast. To witness the Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces discuss my paintings with a once high-ranking member of the Provisional IRA was nothing short of staggering. Of course I knew they were not visiting the Lyric primarily to see my paintings but, as I chatted over the day’s events with my wife and daughters over a meal in an east Belfast restaurant that evening, I realised a bridge had been crossed. In the moment of that famous handshake, the seeds of a healing process of sorts were sown. An understanding and realisation of the conflict being consigned to history was cemented. To me, a 43-year old Belfast man, this unthinkable meeting had become a reality. And I had witnessed it.

Ever since the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998, there had been a growing swell of voices calling for a communal moving-on. History was just that – history, and time was healing. Most of us ticked the ‘yes’ box in the referendum that followed the Agreement. In that simple stroke of the pen, there was a hope that we were putting the dark, murky, terrifying decades of what were known as the Troubles behind us. Most of us wished for the daily killings and bombings to stop, for the gruesome massacres to cease. We wished for life to be normal.

But time doesn’t always heal. For many thousands of people living in Northern Ireland, and indeed beyond, that tick on the ballot paper also marked an end of hope. A hope for justice, hope for answers. Their personal moving-on was now impossible. For many, the natural human process of dealing with loss was interrupted, often never to restart. And in the years that followed, with the rhetoric of blame, histrionics and procrastination, heard together with the calls for healing, forgiveness and love, this significant section of our community has fallen voiceless. After all, what can they say? How can they be heard? The noise of the ‘peace process’ has swept us all along.

In 2013, I penned a short personal manifesto entitled A Common Humanity. In it, I wrote that, since 2010, when I started my series of large-scale head paintings, I have been preoccupied less with the sitter’s celebrity or achievement, and more with their status as a human being. It was a kind of ‘common humanity’ which linked all the paintings and was part of the reason I chose to eliminate any visual reference or clue to each subject. In scale, intensity and intention the sitters were treated as equals. Of course the aesthetic and more formal issues of craft, modelling and likeness were important, but a tension was created where the motive of leaving room for the spirit or ‘common humanity’ clashed with the actual painting. The sitter’s identity or ‘label’ had become secondary to their realisation as a human being.

And it is on this foundation that this body of eighteen paintings rests. Paintings of eighteen fellow human beings all linked by their own unique experiences of loss. Loss through the conflict which ravaged this small part of the world for decades. Loss in our midst. Untold loss. Whilst identity or ‘label’ is buried in the paint, it is my hope that the stories are not. Not just the eighteen stories, but the many thousands. For, on an island where storytelling has been a bedrock for centuries, these stories form the legacy of all conflict.”

Colin Davidson, Silent Testimony Exhibition Catalogue

2015 US/Ireland Alliance Honor, Los Angeles
2012 University of Ulster Distinguished Graduate of the Year Award, Belfast
BP Portrait Visitors’ Choice Award, National Portrait Gallery, London
2011 Royal Ulster Academy, Gold Medal, Belfast
2010 Royal Hibernian Academy, The Ireland - US Council and Irish Arts Review Portraiture Award, Dublin
Royal Ulster Academy, Gold Medal, Belfast
2009 Royal Hibernian Academy, Keating/McLoughlin Medal (ESB), Dublin
2007 Royal Ulster Academy, Caldwell Prize for Drawing, Belfast
2004 Royal Ulster Academy, Gold Medal, Belfast
2002 Royal Ulster Academy, Silver Medal, Belfast
2001 Royal Ulster Academy, Conor Prize, Belfast
1997 Royal Ulster Academy, Silver Medal, Belfast
1994 Communication Arts Award, California
ICAD Craft Award, Dublin
Association of Illustrators, London
Winsor & Newton Gold Award, London
Creative Review Award, London

Solo Exhibitions
2015 ‘Silent Testimony’, Ulster Museum, Belfast
2014 ‘Jerusalem’, Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin
2013 ‘Between The Words’, Naughton Gallery, Queen’s University, Belfast
2012 ‘Transmission’, Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin
2011 Lyric Theatre Belfast (ongoing)
2009 Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast
2007 Window Shopping’, Solomon Gallery, Dublin
2006 ‘Inside/Out’, Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast
2005 Solomon Gallery, Dublin
2004 Gallery Revel, New York
‘No Continuing City’, Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast
2003 Solomon Gallery, Dublin
2002 Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast
2001 Gallery Revel, New York
Solomon Gallery, Dublin
2000 Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast
1999 Solomon Gallery, Dublin
1998 Straid Gallery, Co Antrim
1997 Tom Caldwell Gallery, Belfast
1993 BBC Belfast

Selected Group Exhibitions
(since 2005)
2014 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London
2013 Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin
Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, Belfast
BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London
2012 Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin
Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, Belfast
BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (invited), London
Radharc, The American Irish Historical Society, New York
Hibernation, Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin
2011 Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin
Group show, Boyle Arts Festival, Boyle
BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London
Black and White, Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin
Art London, with Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin
2010 Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin
Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, Belfast
Boyle Arts Festival, Boyle
Michael Quane Selects, Lavit Gallery, Cork
2009 Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin
Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, Belfast
Boyle Arts Festival, Boyle
2008 Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin
Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, Belfast
Boyle Arts Festival, Boyle
2006 Royal Hibernian Academy Annual Exhibition, Dublin
Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, Belfast
Boyle Arts Festival, Boyle
2005 Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, Belfast
Boyle Arts Festival, Boyle

Allied Irish Bank
Anglo Irish Bank
Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Bar Library, Belfast
BTW Shiells, Belfast
British Broadcasting Corporation
Boyle Civic Collection
Cobra Golf, USA
Department of the Environment NI
Department of Finance and Personnel NI
Electricity Supply Board, Ireland
First Trust Bank
Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin (Interpol)
Hastings Hotels
Hilton Hotels
The Law Society of Ireland
National Gallery of Ireland
National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland
Northern Ireland Electricity
Office of Public Works, Ireland
Parliament Buildings Stormont
Queen’s University, Belfast
Royal Victoria Hospital
Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC
Standard Chartered Bank of Asia
Standard Life UK
Ulster Bank Group
Ulster Museum Belfast
Wexford County Council

Selected Portrait Sitters
(since 2010)
Dame Mary Peters
Lord Kerr
Lord Bannside
Sir Kenneth Branagh
Professor Sir Peter Gregson
Michael Longley CBE
Simon Callow CBE
Barry Douglas OBE
Mark Knopfler OBE
Mark Carruthers OBE
Marie Jones OBE
Seamus Heaney
Paul Muldoon
Roddy Doyle
Glen Hansard
Ciaran Hinds
James Nesbitt
Neil Hannon
Conleth Hill
Eamonn Mallie
Gary Lightbody
Bill Whelan
Sinead Morrissey
Glenn Patterson
Jennifer Johnston
Brian Friel
James Ellis
Brian Kennedy
Bronagh Gallagher
Basil Blackshaw
Gavin Friday
Lisa Hannigan
Paul Brady
Terri Hooley
Adrian Dunbar
Marketa Irglova
Eddie Irvine