Colin Davidson's Silent Testimony: Stunning portraits of victims of the Troubles capture what words fail to

New exhibition at the Ulster Museum Belfast charts personal horrors of Norther Ireland conflict

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County Down-based artist Colin Davidson is probably best known for having taught Brad Pitt to paint and whose intimate portrait of the Hollywood actor was unveiled at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington last month.

But the artist, who is used to doing celebrity portraits and also painted the last picture of poet Seamus Heaney before he died, has unveiled 18 new works exploring the suffering and loss caused to ordinary people by the period of history known as the Troubles in his native Northern Ireland.

“Art can tread where words and politics often can’t. Art can powerfully capture what words fail to,” was among the written testimonies in response to the Art of the Troubles exhibition staged at the Ulster Museum last summer.

The sentiment is echoed in Davidson’s series of powerful works which show, through largescale and hugely intimate portraits, the way that tragedy and misfortune tell on our faces.

You can see the grief etched into the beautiful face of Flo O'Riordan whose son Sean was killed by a gunshot to the back of the head aged just 13 years old.

It might be 30 years later but shock still looks out from the eyes of Stuart McCausland whose His mother Lorraine was beaten to death by a gang and dumped in a river.

There’s the resigned sadness of Mo Norton whose brother Terence Griffin, just  24, was one of twelve people killed when a bomb exploded on a coach on the M62 in England on 4th February 1974. The family found out he was a victim when they recognised his belongings from TV footage.

And the quietly angry face of Jonnnie Proctor, whose father was killed the day after he was born when he was on his way to visit his wife and newborn son in hospital, speaks of the real price paid with such violence.

Margaret Yeaman.jpg
Margaret Yeaman was injured on 15th March 1982

The artist describes the series of paintings as an “emotive response which reflects on how the conflict has had, and continues to have, a profound effect on not just the eighteen sitters, but thousands of individuals – the injured, their families, the families of those who died and the wider community.”

Davidson has expressed his “sincere appreciation and gratitude” towards his sitters for sharing their stories with him (each of which can be read alongside their pictures in the gallery above).

He chose to document their stories without mentioning their religion or which side of the Troubles they were embroiled in, believing it not to be relevant to their suffering.

Silent Testimony by Colin Davidson will run until 17 January at the Ulster Museum, Belfast.