An interview with Keith Ayton (Ulster Museum)

Keith Ayton is a visual artist based in Belfast whose work covers painting , photography and printmaking. He is a predominantly an oil painter who concentrates on landscapes. Keith has been a practising artist for over 40 years and returned to art full-time 10 years ago after a redundancy. In the past 10 years he has had 20 solo exhibitions and has taken part in around 40 group shows. Keith also facilitates community engagement with art in the Ulster Museum.

We asked him to share a bit more about what his work entails:

  • What is your role at the Ulster Museum and what does it entail?

I currently facilitate the Discover Art Room in the Ulster Museum 2 days per week. The room is an interactive area in the museum open to the public. Activities include drawing, sketching , collage, printmaking and puppet making.

We also facilitate closed workshops for booked groups. These range from primary schools, secondary/ grammar schools and third level education. Also adults with learning difficulties, and groups from sheltered accommodation, covering all age groups.

All activities are based on the museum collections. Usually a workshop will start with a gallery visit and talk which is followed by the art activity back in the room. Within my role I can facilitate either the gallery talk or the practical workshop if colleagues are available, or cover both aspects if necessary.

  • Tell us about a few of your favourite projects

Projects

Yellow Bungalow

The Yellow Bungalow is a painting in the museum collection by Belfast artist Gerard Dillon.

We decided to recreate the painting as a 3D life-size feature in our upper area so the public could get a feeling of what it would be like to sit in a painting.

I created the walls etc and painted the back drop. We then had a 'range' cooker and a 'settle' made by our in-house joiner. These were painted and collaged to match the painting. The set was dressed with rugs and tables and chairs and included a fake cat as a cat is a feature of the original painting.

The effect was excellent and throughout the length of the project the 'painting' was utilised by schools for story telling, community groups used it for tea and snacks and we even had musicians playing traditional music in the 'Yellow Bungalow'.

Butterflies

To commemorate the First World War we based this project on a painting and a quotation by Sir William Orpen.

The painting was of a First World War trench and the end of the quotation was 'the sky was a dark blue and filled with white butterflies'.

I reproduced the painting 2m x 3m on the back wall of the room. We then put up some chicken wire across the ceiling. we provided inspirational material in the form of specimen cases of butterflies and books. The public activity involved the making of individual white butterflies and using 'orinare' or paper piercing techniques to give them a pattern. We then put them on strings and hung them from the wire, effectively creating a sky full of white butterflies.This also had the potential be extended to discuss the legacy of the First World War in the context of a shared past and future, taking into account that Ireland was not partitioned till the 1920's and conscription was never used here- all the Irish men and women who died in the war were volunteers.

  • What are some your tips for creating a project to engage and share knowledge with the public?

The public engagement aspect needs to be multifaceted or layered. By this, I mean that there needs to be a simple activity which everyone can participate in, but it's possible to also build in additional layers depending on engagement of the individual or group. e.g. Make a butterfly and hang it up. But why a butterfly? Because of the quote. Which opens the many faceted layers of the subjects history, social position in the public consciousness, good or bad, educational aspects about the history or the physical aspects of a butterfly. The avenues can be endless.

Utilising our collection and the strong knowledge base in the museum is a definite benefit for us as it allows us to have a very solid platform for all our projects.

  • What are you working on next at the Ulster Museum?

Summer of 2019 we have a touring exhibition, The Art of Selling Songs

Discover Art will produce a 'pixellated Marilyn' image, 4m sq based on an Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe. The image ties into the exhibition as Warhol produced a number of album covers which are featured, including Velvet Underground and Rolling Stones. This allows us to use the pop art image of Marilyn as a way into drawing and discussing the changes in the development of music imagery and the way music is consumed. It has also triggered reminiscence stories from lots of parents, which opens up a myriad of opportunities.


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