Adam's IMPORTANT IRISH ART 8th December 2021

36 22 COLIN MIDDLETON RHA RUA MBE (1910-1983) Abstract with Toy Train Oil on board, 90 x 90cm (35½ x 35½’’) Signed with monogram Provenance: : Commissioned by Noel Campbell for Morelli’s icecream parlour on the Promenade, Portstewart, Co. Derry, circa early 1970s. Literature: Dickon Hall, Colin Middleton: A Study , Joga Press, 2001, full page illustration, page 79 € 20,000 - 30,000 The variety and range of Colin Middleton’s work is often commented on as its most notable aspect. Closer acquaint- ance with it reveals a unity that carries between styles and periods, both in technique and imagery. In each painting Middleton seems to be looking forward and back. Throughout the six decades that he painted, Middleton never left his initial training as a damask designer far behind, although at times this influence is almost submerged within paint- ings. Middleton’s move to the north coast of Northern Ireland in the late 1950s marked a sharp break in his work; he found a landscape and, through this, a manner of painting that coalesced to express the point at which he found himself as a man and as an artist. During this period, Middleton seems to have been ready to re-introduce elements of his design background into his painting. This work demonstrates the complexity of design and visual inventiveness of which Middleton was capable. The series was painted for Morelli’s cafe, famous as an ice cream parlour, on the seafront in Portstewart. This was arranged by Noel Campbell, a local architect who had been instrumental in a number of commissions for murals Mid- dleton received in the late 1960s and 1970s. It was as rare then as it is now in Northern Ireland for an artist to be thus involved in architectural projects, so this panel has an historical resonance as well as occupying a very particular place within Middleton’s career. The planned location, an ice cream parlour in a holiday town, might well have influenced their bright colours and energetic exuberance, as well as a choice of imagery likely to appeal to children. There are no known photographs of the panels installed in Morelli’s, or any record of how the paintings were intended to be arranged. The diverse formats suggest that the location imposed certain demands upon the artist; the square format of two of the paintings was almost ubiquitous in Middleton’s work at this time, but the elongated panels are unusual. The cross-fertilisation of ideas does suggest that they were closely hung to be viewed together. Abstract with Toy Train dominates the series by virtue of the multitude of ideas with which it seems to vibrate. A sim- plified rendering of what appears to be a llama or alpaca is repeated on various scales, overlapping and creating a dizzying and confused sense of spatial recession. Small panels are placed within these with simplified and angular depictions of fish, a cockerel, a dog and a cat. The latter two recall the notation of Ancient Egypt and the dog is highly reminiscent of depictions of Anubis, the Egyptian jackal headed god (the alpaca might also be read as an image of a Pharaoh dog). In fact these panels carry some overtones of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The alpaca shape is subtly repeated in the forms of the little house, the train and the girl, all reminders of the holiday spirit. A similar fish image was used by Middleton for the sign of a fish and chip shop in an early painting of Belfast, presumably here another reminder of summer in Portstewart. Middleton’s vocabulary is derived from the shapes of objects in the visible world which over decades he has pared into the most visually effective and communicative signifier capable of carrying its meaning. These panels are more than just narrative, although they seem to contain so much. It is up to the viewer to find a personal interpretation or just to enjoy their stimulating presence. Dickon Hall