TITLE: The Legion of Blue Hatted Men

MEDIUM: Oil on Canvas
SIZE: 39 x 39 inches
PRICE: £1,450.00
STATUS: For Sale

The Legion of Blue Hatted Men

Only the blind or chronically insensitive could fail to notice that inside a Shipyard everything is either, painterly or sculptural, architectural or cinematic. The tableaux that returns to my inner eye repeated is of viewing from the dockside the interior of a partially built oil tanker called "Knock Adair" and trying in vain to make a rough costing of the material and man hours needed to bring the project to completion. All the while there was coming and going. Ladders were climbed, cables hauled and hand signals mimed while a waiting Klaxon alerted one and all that Goliath was awake and working.
The textures of concrete and steel impressed themselves silently but significantly as a background tone, from which brighter colours and gestures sprang forth. The scale of the setting seemed to demand more outrageous behaviour from the players who willingly inflated their personalities in an attempt to match the magnitude of the place.
It was hard to believe that as I watched shipbuilding in Belfast was entering a death phase.

Eddie Millar
Belfast

And a word from Eddie...

My first day on earth was 13th June 1953 and I can't remember a thing about it. My mother was a practical matter of fact kind of woman and never saw fit to embellish the details for my future understanding. Education was the basic off the peg variety up to secondary level, no uni for me. My teens were spent in various weightlifting gym's of which there were many in or around Belfast. So my third level of education had to do with navigating my relationships with the Steinbeckian characters who frequented those old style strength parlours. Maybe I should have mentioned that I won the NABBA Mr Universe in 1980 and the NABBA Mr Britain in 1981but lets not dwell on that. I worked at Harland and Wolf Shipyard as a welder for approximately five years (not long enough to call myself a shipyard man), but long enough for me to absorb a flavour of what it was all about, at least for the purpose of making a tribute in paint. Through most of the six decades of my life drawing has been the narrative thread joining everything together. The introduction of paint happened relatively recently; a mere thirty two years ago. My mistakes are numerous and the purist will have no difficulty spotting them. I make little attempt if any to subvert form, choosing instead to marshal eternal verities in the service of honest image making. These are the vignettes of my ordinary life.

As I callow youth coming to terms with the new world of work everything about the Engine Works Drawing Office seemed exotic the size of the draught men's benches, the smell of the office, the apparent suavity of anyone doing their job in a suit. How marvellous it all was.
Even the changing light as morning drifted away and the shadows took up new positions lending a subtle difference to both place and mood. In late autumn when dust began to creep in, the blue green lights of the office flicked on, unnoticed at first until their weird light intensified.
Outside a huge flock of starling arrived at the back of the building and began performing their crazy mesmeric ballet. It took an effort of will greater than mine not to watch. This fascination ended abruptly when the flock acting as one descended on the roost that was the Arrol gantry drawn to it as though iron filings to a magnet. The visual show over they proceeded to fill the air with sound. Now that the lights were brighter the evening sky by contrast seemed much darker the whole ambience assumed a quite romantic quality. In silhouette the Arrol gantry could be seen plainly from the rear windows of the EWDO. I got the feeling it was viewed as a mnemonic its association with the tragic super liner constantly nagging at those Harland men who'd rather not hear anything more of the famous shipwreck. When the gantry was eventually cut down in 1969 no one shed a tear.
The concept of heritage as a marketing opportunity had not yet taken flight. So the practical utilitarian nature cried out with the old. As if it would be that easy to obliterate the most potent sea faring legend ever.
Those with a taste for mysticism may easily accept the notion that the fabric of buildings absorbs the deeds and maybe even a tinge of the identities of those who lived and worked within; sort of like a metaphysical recording device. For the empiricist hard evidence is an essential, hearsay and rumour just doesn't cut it. Sensitivity and gullibility are not necessarily interchangeable but even the champions of common sense may be receptive to atmosphere; architects count on it.

Spelunkers risk prosecution and sometimes injury gaining access to forgotten forbidden places just to get a feel of buildings spectral past.
Ironically nostalgia outcasts the social and cultural structures it pines for. There is a public demand for the antique, for a connection with our forebears. Ruskin said that the artist had no business being a historian or antiquarian but made himself a hypocrite by supporting JMW Turner who had no qualms in demonstrating his need to mimic the romantic histories of Claude Lorraine. These points are worth mentioning because qualitative identity if it exists does so through cultural heritage. Most of us don't know what we've got while we've got it, like rail passengers with our backs to the engine; the landscape we leave behind is infused with a sweet melancholy. It is the prosaic machine-like quantitative identity that allows us to read series of experience as a narrative, thereafter we can romanticise at leisure.
Go to break; cue lilting music; close up on a wrapper unfurling. An expression of ecstatic fulfilment graced the lovely young woman's face as she sensuously bit off the end off a chocolate bar and the sublime burnt itself mistakenly into my understanding. I'm too often tempted to look down the wrong end of the telescope and this results in skewed appreciation or maybe if I'm honest I'm just to dumb to get the proper meaning of certain words. For instance "sublime". I thought it meant, delicious, to die for, transports of delight but not so. Not as far as the draughtsmen painters of past times are concerned. Gustare Dore's etchings to illustrate Dante's inferno depict a space terrifying on its own terms, a vast cathedral of fear pain and woe. JMW Turners drawings of the passage of the St Gothard show a vertiginous landscape created by elemental powers beyond the human. Only clich├ęs like "awe inspiring" or breathtaking do service for such landscapes.
Gianbatistic Piranese's "Carceric de Invengione" or nightmare prisons are a vision of terror and foreboding which human imagination seems to need and revel. These are the definitions of sublime as understood in the past and completely at odds with the deliciousness of sweet sticky sugar addiction. There aren't many places in Northern Ireland majestic enough to spark such sublimely. We don't have a Yosemite Valley or a Niagara Falls; we don't have city skyline or a medieval architectural gem of sublime proportions. We did though once upon a time have a shipyard in which were made many imposing ocean going vessels, and in that shipyard was a magnificent engine works housing machinery and men working to a common purpose the nightmare of which became manifest every Monday morning, a Hades for the twentieth century.

Change is the only constant and it happens too fast for most of us. This applies just as cruelly to old established firms as it does to individuals and Harland & Wolfs engine works fell either to the vagaries of changing market conditions or to the misguided whim of those in power. Either way the once throbbing heart of Northern Irish industry died. Leaving the physical shell a sad empty carapace its interior gloomy and soaked through with the ghostly air of glories past. Walking through its gutted carcase was the only time in Northern Ireland I have ever experienced anything like the sublime.
I stopped and stared, no one else did. Purple skies are unusual in themselves but the spectacle is cranked up a notch or two when framed by day glow yellow. The engine room interior; landings, bulkheads; the lot was painted yellow. High visibility no doubt seen as a safety feature, it seemed a bit twee though. The last piece of the jigsaw was the section of deck above the engine room. It was left open to allow heavy machinery and equipment to be craned in or out. From inside the vessel looking up, the hatch as big as a cinema screen, allowed the purple twilight played upon by a dying sun to reach inside me and momentarily consummate what Carl Sagan called "cosmos made conscious".
Maybe these few sublime seconds were the last and only sense of completion I'd get.
The job in hand would keep for a while.
Ridiculous at first sight but entirely practical at second glance the plank laid flat upon the dock floor gave the gouger the essential extra inch and a half of height needed to comfortably scoop out the back of the seam.
Festoons of forty watt bulbs didn't make much difference to the stygeam gloom under the boat but the arc light from the gouging rod and the hiss off compressed air was a definite attention grabber.
A spectacular as any firework display the molten steel was blown out of the weld like a cascade of raging fireworks.