Call to reopen Ormeau Baths Gallery as a public venue

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Featured image: One of the paintings by Brian Ballard

The Ormeau Bath Gallery shut its doors to the public in 2011. VIEW talks to artist Brian Ballard as the Belfast landmark building temporarily reopened to host a collection of his work which spans over 50 years

Born in Belfast, Brian Ballard trained firstly at the College of Art, Belfast and then at the College of Art, Liverpool. He still lives in Belfast but spends long periods of time living and working in his house on the remote and rugged island of Inishfree, off the coast of Donegal.

“I have always believed that ordinary people, so called ordinary people, have difficult access to paintings, says Brian.

“Galleries can often be daunting spaces. It can sometimes be hard to get people to look at art, including my exhibition.

“I try sometimes to bring my paintings to people. Three years ago I opened up a space at Sinclair House on Royal Avenue in Belfast. I turned a former cafe into a pop up gallery along with my daughter Lisa. We put up 21 paintings so that people walking pass the building could see them. Passers by just came in to the gallery and chatted with me. They loved the fact that they could chat with a ‘real artist’ as they described me.

“The visitors book was filled with comments such as ‘I was walking by on a wet day and I came in and felt lifted by the place and felt at peace’.”

“The former Ormeau Baths Gallery, which closed due to funding difficulties in 2011, once performed that function.

“I would love to see it reinstated as a place where people could view art.”

Brian described how he managed to secure the space at the Ormeau Gallery. “I had to find a big space for my exhibition. Many of them had been in storage for years. The only space available was the Baths. It’s for sale and I think I may be the last person to get it on a short term lease, We tidied it up, the pictures are on the wall and we want people to come in.”

He said he would back any efforts to reopen the Ormeau Baths Gallery.

“I’ve been saying to everyone that this place is amazing. We shouldn’t lose this place but it may still be lost. I got goosebumps all over me the first time I seen my paintings hung on the walls. Some of these pieces were done 50 years ago and they have been in storage ever since that time. It’s time that they got out.”

Marianne O’Kane Boal, who curated the exhibition, said: “In an ideal world it would be wonderful if the Ormeau Baths Gallery could reopen as a public gallery.

“This building is ideally suited to the showing of art. It has four impressive galleries of varying scales and dimensions. As the Ballard exhibition has shown the gallery still provides the perfect stage for art even though it has not been used for three years. It was exciting for me to curate a painting exhibition in the space and one that was accessible and of interest to the public. If the gallery was to reopen it should be purchased by Belfast City Council and run as a public gallery. I agree with the Arts Council’s statement at the time of closure that the high rents of the building were unsustainable.”

Marianne added: “Art is accessible to communities, certainly. It depends on the type and breadth of art shown though. I feel it is very important to show traditional art forms – painting,  sculpture, drawing,  printmaking and not only devote contemporary spaces to photography and new media. Both types of art are valid but often it is conceptual art that is shown at the expense of traditional practice.

“Art can be made more accessible through making it relevant to people generally. The public like to see Belfast artists who are known in the city.”

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