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It must be stressed however that Alice was anything but dogmatic in her approach to art. I remember her telling me that one should be able to recognise real value where it could be found even in work one didn't like. Being myself of a rather dogmatic disposition I've always had some difficulty with this, one reason why I could never have become an art critic, or an arts administrator. Or run an art gallery.

The New Gallery opened in April 1963 and through the rest of the year plunged Belfast - still somewhat reticent with regard to 'modern art' - into the deep end with exhibitions by:

Michael Michaelides

Michael Michaelides: Il Cairo, 1961, oil on canvas, 84 x 84 cm

Joseph Duncan

Joseph Duncan: Composition, c1960 , oil, 54 x 65 cm

Noel Sheridan

Noel Sheridan: Green composition, 1959, oil on masonite, 42 by 24cm
Priv. coll.   

Klaus Friedeberger

Klaus Friedeberger: Child with toy helmet ii, oil on canvas, 30 x 20"Priv. coll.

Gillian Ayres

Gillian Ayres: Brood, 1962, oil and ripolin on canvas, 214 x 315 cmPriv. coll.

All these artists, with the exception of Noel Sheridan, were associated with Annely Juda's Molton Gallery, opened in 1960, and, in the case of Klaus Friedeberger, her Hamilton Gallery, opened in 1963. Noel Sheridan was associated with the longer established Dawson Gallery in Dublin. But the New Gallery also showed a good many artists in a wide variety of styles from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and it had what I would regard as the extraordinary privilege of hosting the first solo exhibition of the Tory Island painter, James Dixon. And in 1968 it showed what must have been one of the first group exhibitions of the Tory island painters. In this context we have, in the Ulster Museum archive, an interesting note from Alice to Jim Ede of Kettles Yard in Cambridge relating to the St Ives painter Alfred Wallis:

'I find your remarks comparing Dixon and Wallis most interesting; while I agree that Dixon is "making paintings". not only "picture making", his too stem from living experience - I feel it is essential to live intensely to make a creative talent become art and certainly not necessarily be representational - but to me the best in pure abstract art stems from what the painter concerned has done or is doing with his life - I do NOT mean if he is "good" or "bad" but if he is living consciously and fully; does this make sense?'

It would be interesting to have Ede's idea of the exchange. Was he criticising abstract art? He was an admirer of Ben Nicholson. But at any rate Alice's insistence on 'living consciously' is very much in line with my argument on Ouspensky and Gurdjieff.

James Dixon: The First Fleetwood Trawler that Ever Fish [sic] Back of Tory Island, 1968,
55 x 75cm, Priv. coll.

Neil Shawcross, whom I've already mentioned for his children's art 'class' and who is now one of the most well respected painters in Ireland, gives some idea of the openness of Alice's approach in an article on the gallery published in 1979:

'Perhaps I may be allowed a personal note. My own first one-man exhibition took place in 1965 here - to extremely adverse reviews. I quote two sentences to give their flavour: "This work is an insult to the public" and "If Shawcross can draw we will give him the benefit of the doubt." Alice's reaction was characteristic; she immediately offered me another exhibition.' (35)

(35) Neil Shawcross: 'New Gallery, 1963-1969' in A Needle's eye - the Lyric Players Theatre, Belfast 1979, published by the theatre to mark the tenth anniversary of its installation in Ridgeway Street.

Since I can't find any photos of the quite wonderful paintings Neil was doing at that time (my favourite period of his work if my memory doesn't deceive me) this may be a good space to insert his portrait of Alice:

And here perhaps I may be allowed a personal note of my own. In 1964 I attended a Summer School in France, the Collège Cévenol, where I met the painter Walter Firpo. It was the beginning of my lifelong engagement with the painting and thinking of Albert Gleizes which has such a large part to play on other parts of this website. Alice was about the only person I knew who thought this was interesting. When I suggested that she might put on an exhibition of Firpo's work she agreed immediately and in fact she got it all set up. But this all happened in 1968-9. In October 1968, the Lyric Players had moved to their new much larger theatre in Ridgeway Street, Stranmillis, overlooking the river. This had necessarily created financial problems. Traditionally, under the management of Mary O'Malley, the theatre had operated on the basis of the Napoleonic principle - 'On s'engage et puis ... on voit' but now a Board of Trustees had been established to manage its affairs. The Board decided that the wellbeing of the main enterprise (the theatre) required the closure of the premises on Grosvenor Road - the shop specialising in Irish Handcrafts and the gallery. The site has long since disappeared - together with that other, rather different, centre of my activity, 10 Athol Street - into the maw of McCausland's Car Hire business. The Grosvenor Road premises were closed in June 1969 and Alice died in July. To quote Mary O'Malley (Never Shake Hands, pp.237-8): 'It was sad that these events should have clouded Alice's final months. I was profoundly upset by her sudden death. Although I visited her in hospital, I could not accept the fact that this was a terminal illness. Working with Alice had always been a joy although occasionally we did, of course, have our artistic disagreements, but differences were short-lived. Alice had painted the sets for the final performances in Derryvolgie. Many months after her death, I looked at the slides made at this time. The background was dark and ominous and full of foreboding. Granted, the plays, Oedipus at Colonus, Purgatory, Calvary and Resurrection dealt with death, but I hadn't noticed the relevance of her contribution until I saw the slides.'

The arrangements Alice had made for forthcoming exhibitions were taken over by the Arts Council and the Firpo exhibition was due to be shown as part of the annual festival at Queen's University. In the event, however, the venue originally planned for the exhibition - which I had described to Firpo and which he found suitable - was changed to what was effectively the foyer of one of the University schools and on the basis of my description (I was trying to present it in the most favourable light) Firpo withdrew.