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.
Silent Testimony by Colin Davidson
Silent Testimony by Colin Davidson
1/18 John Gallagher, 2015
John Gallagher's father John (29) was shot dead on 14th August 1969 in Armagh. John Snr was recorded as the first official victim of the Troubles because of the fact that he died from gunshot wounds. He was married with three young children, one of whom was later injured in a land mine attack in Armagh on 24th July 1990.
2/18 Flo O’Riordan, 2015
Flo O'Riordan's son Sean was killed on 23rd March 1972 on Cawnpore Street in West Belfast. Sean received a gunshot wound to the back of the head and died a short time later in hospital. He was thirteen years old and was the second eldest of six children.
3/18 Mo Norton, 2015
Mo Norton’s brother Terence Griffin (24) was one of twelve people killed when a bomb exploded on a coach on the M62 in England on 4th February 1974. Mo recalls the family not knowing if Terence was caught in the bomb until they saw one of his record sleeves by the road on a lunch-time television report.
4/18 Thomas O'Brien, 2014
Thomas O'Brien was bereaved on 17th May 1974. His brother John (23), sister in law Anna (22) and two nieces Jacqueline (17 months) and Anne Marie (5 months) were killed when a no warning car bomb exploded as the young family were walking along Parnell Street in Dublin. A total of thirty-three people lost their lives that day in separate bombings in Dublin and Monaghan.
5/18 Anna Cachart, 2014
Anna Cachart's father Patrick (36) was shot dead on 1st April 1975 at his home in Carrickfergus. Patrick, who was born in India, had married a woman from Belfast and had three children. He was killed at home in front of his wife while his young children were asleep upstairs.
6/18 Maureen Reid, 2014
Maureen Reid's husband, and father of their ten children, James (44) was killed on 17th January 1976, when a bomb was thrown into the Sheridan Bar in the New Lodge district of Belfast. Maureen never remarried and raised her family on a widow's pension. Throughout the years Maureen referred to James as 'Daddy'. She passed away on 25th March 2015 with her family by her side.
7/18 Damien McNally, 2014
Damien McNally's father Paul (26) was shot on 5th June 1976 in the Ardoyne district of Belfast. Paul and a friend were crossing Brompton Road after leaving a bookmakers in the early afternoon when two gunmen approached them. Paul died in hospital two days after the attack, knowing his injuries would be fatal. Damien was four months old and his sister Karen was four years of age.
8/18 Walter Simons, 2014
Walter Simon's son Eugene (26) disappeared on 1st January 1981. Eugene was a father of three children and had recently remarried following the death of his first wife. He was due to become a father again. Eugene's body was recovered in May 1984 when a bog in County Louth was drained. His remains were identified by the rose gold Celtic cross worn round his neck that had belonged to his first wife.
9/18 Johnnie Proctor, 2014
Johnnie Proctor's father John (25) was killed on 14th September 1981. Johnnie was born the day before and his father was visiting the Mid-Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt to see his wife and newborn son when he was shot dead in the hospital car park. Johnnie was named after his father.
10/18 Margaret Yeaman, 2014
Margaret Yeaman was injured on 15th March 1982. She was working in an estate agents in Banbridge when a no warning car bomb exploded close by. Much of the town was destroyed. Margaret sustained serious facial injuries, requiring over 100 stitches, and was permanently blinded. She was the mother of four young children at the time. Margaret is now a grandmother but grieves that she will never be able to see her grandchildren.
11/18 Virtue Dixon, 2015
Virtue Dixon's daughter Ruth (24) died in a bomb attack in Ballykelly on 6th December 1982. Ruth was celebrating her birthday in the Droppin Well public house when there was an explosion, causing the roof to collapse. Sixteen other people lost their lives in the attack. A witness tells of seeing the DJ play 'Happy Birthday' for Ruth at the moment the bomb exploded. Ruth's son, who was six at the time of her death, died suddenly when he was aged thirty.
12/18 Jeff Smith, 2014
Jeff Smith and a colleague were driving near Kinawley in Fermanagh on 18th June 1985, when their Ford Sierra was caught in a land mine explosion. As a result of his injuries Jeff was left permanently paralysed. His colleague William Robert Gilliland died in the attack.
13/18 Paul Reilly, 2014
Paul Reilly's daughter, Joanne (20), was killed on 12th April 1989 in Warrenpoint. Joanne had been working in a builder's yard when a no warning bomb exploded beside her office. She was killed instantly. The sitting for this portrait took place in Joanne's bedroom, kept exactly as she left it that day. The clock on the wall is stopped at 9.58am, the time of her death.
14/18 Mary Finnis, 2014
Mary Finnis' son Rory, 21, was shot dead in June 1991. Rory's body, displaying evidence of torture, was found barefoot and hooded behind shops in the Creggan Estate in Derry. He had last been seen with a close friend in a city-centre pub five days before his body was found on 6th June 1991. Mary still lives surrounded by photographs and mementoes of her son. Rory's son was just eighteen months old at the time of his death.
15/18 Jean Caldwell, 2014
Jean Caldwell's husband Cecil, 37, was killed on 17th January 1992 when a land mine was detonated at Teebane Crossroads on the main Omagh to Cookstown Road. He and seven other colleagues died, and many others were injured, when the bomb destroyed their work van as they travelled home for the weekend. Cecil and Jean have two girls.
16/18 Fiona Kelly, 2014
Fiona Kelly's father Gerry Dalrymple, 58, was killed on 25th March 1993 when gunmen opened fire on the van in which he and his colleagues were travelling in Castlerock. The workmen had been carrying out building and renovation work for some months in the seaside town. Three other men died in the attack. Gerry Dalrymple lived in Rasharkin and was the father of six children.
17/18 Emma Anthony, 2014
Emma Anthony's father Frederick, 38, was killed on 13th May 1994 in his home-town of Lurgan by an under car booby trap bomb. His family were with him in the car. Emma, then three years of age, sustained serious injuries as she was seated behind her father and was not expected to live. She still lives with the impact of her injuries.
18/18 Stuart McCausland, 2014
Stuart McCausland's mother Lorraine (23) was beaten to death by a gang on 8th March 1987. Lorraine's body was found face-down in a stream near Tynedale Community Centre in Belfast. She was a single mother of two boys, Stuart and Craig. Eighteen years later, on 11th July 2005, Stuart’s brother Craig (20) was shot dead in front of his girlfriend and her two young children.
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.
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.Reuse content