Abstract Armature: Simon McWilliams

Published on the occasion of the exhibition "Simon McWilliams - Abstract Armature" at the Naughton Gallery at Queens University, Belfast. 18th April - 18th May 2014. Design Darragh Neely, ISBN 978-1-909131-21-7 Catalogue intro by Shan McAnena, Director , The Naughton Gallery at Queens. Catalogue essay by Shana Nys Dambrot Los Angeles, March 2014. Paintings also formed part of exhibitions in Skotia Gallery, Los Angeles and Skotia Gallery Santa Fe, New Mexico. Catalogue available on Amazon.

Published on the occasion of the exhibition "Simon McWilliams - Abstract Armature" at the Naughton Gallery at Queens University, Belfast. 18th April - 18th May 2014. Design Darragh Neely,
ISBN 978-1-909131-21-7 Catalogue intro by Shan McAnena, Director , The Naughton Gallery at Queens.
Catalogue essay by Shana Nys Dambrot Los Angeles, March 2014.
Paintings also formed part of exhibitions in Skotia Gallery, Los Angeles and Skotia Gallery Santa Fe, New Mexico. Catalogue available on Amazon.


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Simon McWilliams





This catalogue was published on the

occasion of the exhibition

Simon McWilliams

Abstract Armature

at The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s

11th April - 18th May 2014

Design: Darragh Neely

ISBN 978-1-909131-21-7

2014 All photos © Simon McWilliams except

Back cover and portrait of the artist © Robin Cordiner

Simon McWilliams

Born in Belfast in 1970, Simon McWilliams was educated at

the Royal Academy Schools in London and the University of

Ulster in Belfast, specialising in painting. For more than 20

years Simon has proven himself to have a unique painterly

voice. He gathered accolades and awards in the USA, UK

and Ireland; most notably the Guinness Award at the Royal

Academy Summer Exhibition, London; a Major Award

from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and Perpetual

Gold and Silver Medals from the Royal Ulster Academy.

Simon lives in Belfast with his wife and daughter.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may

be produced, stored in a retrieval system, or

transmitted in any form or by any means, without

the permission of the artist, authors or publisher.

The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s

Lanyon Building

Queen’s University Belfast


Telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 3580

Email: art@qub.ac.uk


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Simon McWilliams: Abstract Armature

“All architecture

is what you do

to it when you

look upon it,

(Did you think it

was in the white

or gray stone?

or the lines of

the arches and


Walt Whitman

from A Song for Occupations

Armature was originally a term of sculpture and

architecture, denoting a physical framework stabilizing

an object during fabrication. Later, it was used as an

interpretive analogy in Cubism to describe the underlying

organizational skeleton on which elements of quasiabstraction

could be hung to keep the image together. In

the vibrant, densely built, spatially complex paintings of

Simon McWilliams, armature fulfills the pictorial aspect of

its meaning -- and takes a lead role in the content of the

images. His aesthetic affinity for the dynamic ambiguity of

construction sites frequently leads McWilliams to depict

actual architectural scaffolding in his compositions, as well

as sparked a love for the fragile, elegant dissonance and

unlikely climate of classic greenhouses. Not entirely ready

to submit to the desires of pure pigment, it’s no wonder

McWilliams is attracted to real places with unreal qualities.

He loves the way construction zones exist at the

coincidence of creation and destruction -- the colorful

flapping tarps, stark lights, clouds of dust, contortions

of space and perspective, the eliding of geometry and

weather. In turn, the presence of these and other artifacts

of the familiar world hold together compositions that might

otherwise threaten to dissolve into abstraction. McWilliams

is keenly aware of this threat, and he is forever shoring

up against it. “I’m going for a more ambivalent surface,

for a formalism that is fundamentally abstract despite my

ineffable need for a scaffold of realism to hang it on. A

builder using a cement cutter might give me an excuse to

compose an abstract shape and play around with smoky

textures and sparkling light. Sometimes I feel the builders

help me solve a composition -- but at the same time, the

paintings grow in ways I hadn’t planned.”

When it comes to McWilliams’ periodical return to the

subject of palm-houses, there are significant formal and

analogical correspondences. In the use of lines, the energy

of the hurried geometry, and the evocative deployment

of paint, one sees echoed the same strategies he used to

replicate atmospheric effects of industrial construction --

here used to both depict and replicate the florid fractals that

undergird organic botany. His determination forms through

brush and brushless work isn’t just pictorial, it’s sculptural

and dimensional. And it’s worth remarking how the

hypersaturated interior fog of the hothouses is not unlike

the dust of a construction site. In a marvellous bit of fate,

this exhibition is being held at a gallery inside the Queens

University in Belfast, which was designed by Charles Lanyon,

and next door to the University is a curvilinear palm-house

which he also designed. it is the exact palmhouse which

McWIlliams has been painting. Unsurprisingly, it was the

combination of architecture and exotic atmospherics that

also attracted him there.

This quality is reminiscent of JMW Turner’ works of majestic

ambiguity like Rain, Steam, and Speed. Having the impulse

to paint abstractly yet lacking the language to support it,

Turner instead sought out places, things, and phenomena

that already looked abstract and painted those. Even the

organic elements McWilliams chooses are cultivated, artificial

natures -- living but not ordinarily occurring, designed

recreations within the urban context. McWilliams, like Turner

deploys abstraction as an inherent quality of the postindustrial

epoch. Looking at cement, rebar, polyurethane,

and debris, using paint and saturated color to understand;

melding natural, industrial, and emotional phenomena into a

singular expressive construct; and prompting our attention

not only to what we see, but to how we see it.

Shana Nys Dambrot

Los Angeles, March 2014

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author

based in Los Angeles. She is currently LA Editor for WhiteHot

Magazine, Arts Editor for Vs. Magazine, Contributing Editor

to Art Ltd., and a contributor to the LA Weekly, Flaunt,

Huffington Post, Scene, and KCET’s Artbound. She studied

Art History at Vassar College, and besides contributing to

various magazines, she is a writer of not only books but also

exhibition catalogues. She curates one or two exhibitions a

year and speaks in public with alarming frequency.

Her work is archived (mostly) at sndx.net.

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Red Model

oil on linen

153cm x 123cm


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oil on canvas

108cm x 130cm

2010 - 2013

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oil on linen

80cm x 60cm


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Welder and Smoke

oil on linen

80cm x 60cm

2010 - 2014

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Building Babel

oil on canvas

195cm x 213cm


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Yellow Shuttering

oil on canvas

90cm x 76cm

2010 - 2013

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Smoke and Ladders

oil on linen

152cm x 182cm

2012 - 2014

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Red Ark with Steam

oil on canvas

163cm x 173cm


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New Tower of Babel

oil on canvas

72cm x 60cm


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oil on canvas

172cm x 165cm

2007 - 2013

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oil on canvas

150cm x 100cm

2010 - 2014

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Open Night

oil on linen

153cm x 123cm


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Belfast Palmhouse II

oil on canvas

152cm x 182cm


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Restoration Dust

oil on linen

152cm x 182cm

2012 – 2014

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Metropolis, Shanghai 2014

oil on canvas

250cm x 197cm


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Simon McWilliams CV


1995-98 the Royal Academy Schools, London

1982-92 BA (Hons) Fine Art University of Ulster

1988-89 Art & Design, University of Ulster

Solo Exhibition

2014 Naughton Gallery, Belfast.

2014 Belfast Print Workshop, solo show of original prints

2012 Skotia Gallery, Los Angeles

2010 Skotia Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

2006 John Martin Gallery, London

2001 Art Space Gallery, Michael Richardson Contemporary Art,


2000 Solomon Gallery, Dublin

1995, 1993 Cavehill Gallery, Belfast

Group Shows:

2013 VUE: National Contemporary Art Fair, RHA in Dublin

2013-1993 Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibitions

2013 Peppercanister Gallery, Dublin

2012, 2009 2007 2002 Royal Hibernian Academy,

Annual Exhibitions Dublin

2013-1993 Cavehill Gallery group shows, Belfast

2012 N.I. Printmakers, Lessedra Gallery ,Sofia, Bulgaria

2012 Factory Place Open Studios, Los Angeles, California

2012 Sea of Exchange: Ireland - Los Angeles. LA Print Space,

Los Angeles Irish Film Festival.

2012 Veneris XIII, Skotia Gallery, California

2012 Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London

2011 Contemporary Art in Northern Ireland, The Arts Council NI,

Stormont Castle

2011 Skotia Gallery Group Show, LA

2011 Skotia Gallery, Los Angeles Art Fair, LA

2010 Crow Moon Grand Re-Opening, Skotia Gallery, Santa Fe.

2009,2008, 2006 Boyle Arts Festival, Roscommon

2009 The Ava Gallery, The World in Black and White

2009 Ava Gallery, New Year Works

2008, 2007, 2006 Wexford Festival, Exhibition, hosted by Joan Lambert

2008 The Invisible Collection, Ava Gallery

2008 Inishlacken: A Place Apart, Galway Arts Centre and touring

2007, 2006, 2004 Fenton Gallery,Cork

2007 The UTV collection: A Fresh Look, Highlanes Gallery

2007 Double Elephant, Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast

2007 Modern & Contemporary Irish Art, Sothebys London

2007 New Art from Northern Ireland. Katzen Arts Center,

Washington, USA

2007 Recent Acquisitions, Queens University Collection,

Naughton Gallery Belfast

2007 Glasgow Art Fair

2006 The Discerning Eye, The Mall Galleries, London

2006 Sothebys Post War and Contemporary Irish Art, RHA Dublin &

Sothebys, Bond Street, London

2006 “Reflections” Joint Government Exhibition, Touring

2006 “Collectors Collections” Ormeau Baths Gallery Belfast

2005, 2006, 2001 Solomon Gallery, Dublin

2005,2004, 1999 Invited Artist, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

2004, 2003, 1999 The Hunting Art Prizes, Royal College of Art, London

2003 Lexmark European Art Prize Finalists exhibition

2001 AIB art collection at the Ulster Museum

1999 Klinginmuseum, “Light in Art”, Solingen, Germany

1999 Art Space Gallery, “Four young Painters”, London

1999 Long & Ryle Gallery. London

1999 The Royal Overseas League, London

1998 Royal Academy Schools, London

1998 Cadogan Contemporary Gallery, London

1997 Sackler Galleries, Premiums exhibition Royal Academy of Arts,


1997 National Print Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London

1997, 96 Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts , London






2013 INPA International Painting Annual V3, Finalist,

Manifest Gallery, Ohio

2013 Arts Council of NI, SIAP award

2012 Culture Ireland Grant

2012 British Council

2012, (10, 01, 00, 99, 94, 93) Arts Council of NI Visual Arts Bursaries

2010 Irish News Award, Royal Ulster Academy

2009 Academy Award, Royal Ulster Academy

2009 Gold Medal, Royal Ulster Academy

2009 Fringe Mk Annual painting prize finalist

2007 Celeste Art Prize Shortlisted Artist

2006 Discerning Eye London, Regional Prize

2006 Elected Royal Ulster Academician

2005 Mills Selig Award, Royal Ulster Academy

2002 Major individual award, Arts Council of Northern Ireland

1999 Silver Medal, Royal Ulster Academy

1999 Abbey Stained Glass Studio Award,

Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

1999 Hunting Art Prizes, Gallery Award, London

1998 Arts Council of Ireland, Equipment Grant

1998 Elizabeth Fitzpatrick Bursary, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

1998 Nicholas & Andre Tooth Travel Award, Royal Academy, London

1998 Gilchrist Fisher Award, London

1997 British Institute award for painting, London

1997 John Crompton award Royal Academy, London

1996 The Guinness Award, Sponsors Prize, Royal Academy Summer

show, London

1996 “Belfast ‘91” Award

1994 Northern Ireland Arts Club Award

1992 Belfast Young Contemporaries, prize-winner,

One Oxford Street Gallery

1992 Thomas Dammann Junior Travel Award, Arts Council of NI


The Ulster Museum, Belfast

Queens University Belfast

University of Ulster Permanent collection

Boyle Civic collection, Roscommon

Northern Ireland civil service/ Government Art Collection

Office of Public Works, Ireland

Department of Finance, Northern Ireland

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Allied Irish Banks (Dublin)

Bank of Ireland

Permanent TSB (Dublin)

Guinness PLC (London)

Centrum Kunstlicht in de Kunst (Eindhoven)

Construction Employers Federation NI

National Self-portrait collection of Ireland, Limerick

Ulster Television PLC, Belfast

The Haverty Trust, Ireland

UNISON for Northern Ireland

AXA Insurance

The Mater Hospital

Brian O Halloran & Associates

Robinson McIlwaine Architects

Brian 0 Donnell & Partners, Dublin

Parker Green International

McCann Fitzgerald Solicitors, Dublin

The Bar Library, Belfast

Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland

Page 38

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