Colin McGookin was born in Belfast in 1958, and graduated in fine art from the Belfast College of Art in 1981. Within a few years of leaving college, he was a founder member of Queen Street Studios in 1984. He was elected to the Royal Ulster Academy in 1989, and in the same year won the Conor Prize. He has also been a winner of the Allied Irish Bank Better Ireland Award and the Claremorris Open. He has exhibited extensively across Ireland, the UK, USA and the Far East.
“All of my work continues to be heavily influenced by events in my world. From local to international events I incorporate images that interest and perplex me in an effort to better understand negative or celebrate positive outcomes. During the Irish troubles I witnessed several serious events personally and the trauma and reverberations of them went straight into my artwork with aftershocks continuing to seep into my imagery today. My choice of remaining in NI throughout my career has left a distinctive mood in my artwork. Containing hope but heavily tempered with blue shades my imagery contains images and symbols of the objects and things that have played a role in events influencing my life.”
Professor Liam Kelly of the University of Ulster and once Director of the Orchard Gallery Derry said in his book ‘Thinking Long’
“There is a relentless quest for the interrelations of man and woman in nature in Colin McGookin’s highly referential paintings. There is a thinking long, a longing to return to the ‘indivisible ground of creation’. ”
Dr Anthony Buckley of the Ulster Folk Museum said in his catalogue essay to McGookins 1991 exhibition ‘From Tradition into the Light’
“McGookin’s mythologies point most obviously to the life cycle, to the cyclical physiological processes of birth, sexuality and death, and once again to birth. These he uses in turn to evoke the cognitive, emotional and social awakening of the child as he grows into a man. These mythologies of universal processes also take on a Northern Irish flavor. Thus the awakening and enlightenment are portrayed as growing from the parochial mythologies of a traditional loyalist past. What is left unclear and deliberately unresolved in these paintings is the question of whether, once this growth has occurred, a person must once more return to his parochial and local roots. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
The artist’s apprehension here is one he shares with his liberal contemporaries in Northern Ireland. There are many Northern Irish people – especially those in the middle-classes – who would grow out of the ‘sectarianism’ of their ethnic roots. Yet many of these simultaneously have loyalties – not least family ties – which bind them to their ethnic past. McGookin’s pictures therefore stand as a metaphor for those people who would like to live in the bright cosmopolitan light of a future world but who find they cannot entirely relinquish their loyalty to family, to ethnicity and to the past.
McGookin’s vision, then, is one not quite of tragedy nor yet of hope. His pictures bridge the past and the future, the old and the new, the parochial and the universal, the familiar and the exotic, the forces of destruction and those of creation. They suggest this through a mythology at once both sexual and religious which evokes both a hopeful, creative sense of progress, and a tragic zoetropical eternal return. In this cycle of life, one may aspire to an ecstatic union with the exotic and the universal, but there is a real possibility that one will return to the particularity of one’s origins, a clay which, for an Ulsterman, has a singularly tragic taint.”