Painters Jack Pakenham and Joe McWilliams discuss art and the work of artists in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

'Folio' visits Northern Ireland, where an apparent renaissance of creative and artistic endeavour has been going on over the last decade.  Patrick Gallagher talks to painters Jack Pakenham and Joe McWilliams in the Ulster Museum. 

Is it the role of the artist to reflect the times they live in?  If this is the case, are artists in Northern Ireland responding to the Troubles?  Painter Jack Pakenham doesn’t think this is necessarily true, 

Some are involved with the human condition, and they are almost bound to be involved with the Troubles.  But an awful lot of people are not involved with the human condition, they’re interested in perception and design.  It would seem to me to be dishonest of these people who are by nature interested in abstract qualities to suddenly be asked to produce strong, visually dramatic images.

When the Troubles started, Joe McWilliams remembers feeling when he painted that this act was about as far removed from the harsh realities of the Troubles as you could get.  But artists do respond to what is going on around them, whether they intend to or not, 

To self-consciously reflect the times would be to my mind, produce work of mediocrity.

Joe McWilliams acknowledges the current trend that art should be accessible to everyone, but he is not sure that this can be achieved, 

Art by its very nature isn’t democratic, no more than nuclear physics is democratic, it’s not accessible to the masses, and I think if we try to make it accessible to the masses, we dilute it in some way, and produce sort of the ‘Beano’ in lieu of a novel.

There have been attempts to bring art into the streets of Belfast, but both agree that to date this approach has not been effective.  According to Pakenham, 

They become things that kids play on, or things that people drive past.

This episode of ‘Folio’ was broadcast on 8 May 1978.  The presenter is Patrick Gallagher.