James MacIntyre (1926 – 2015) was born in Coleraine but educated in Belfast. Although he had almost completed his apprenticeship as a motor mechanic, he threw it up to begin painting and worked as a professional painter from 1946. In 1951, the Belfast artist, Gerard Dillon invited him to join him on the island of Inishlacken, off Roundstone in Connemara, for a month or so, to paint. Dillon had a cottage, rent free, for a year and the Ulster Museum has one of his most important paintings from that period ‘The Yellow Bungalow.’ The younger painter by ten years, MacIntyre, travelled from Belfast to Dublin where he stayed with another Belfast painter, George Campbell and his wife Madge, before they both proceeded to Roundstone where they were met by Dillon. Then they travelled by curragh to Inishlacken.
MacIntyre’s book ‘Three Men on an Island’, published in 1996, gives a very vivid account of this experience and the rapport between the three artists. The illustrations, mainly by MacIntyre, portray life on an island in the 50’s which is now uninhabited but these works convey the essence of MacIntyre’s art, his use of bold watercolours, his ease of drawing as he captured in pen and ink the islanders as they carried out their daily chores, of bringing seaweed from the shore to the potato beds, using a scythe to cut the hay, repairing the thatch on their cottage roofs, shearing sheep, bringing in creels of turf from the bog with their donkeys, their use of curraghs to travel between the island and Roundstone. The book also captures the artists’ depiction of the cottages, the surrounding beautiful landscape and seascapes and the three artists themselves at work capturing it.
James MacIntrye’s artistic output from these six weeks on Inishlacken became his one–person exhibition at the CEMA Art Gallery, 55a, Donegall Place, Belfast in 1952. In 1960, CEMA became the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Life was difficult for the younger artist, as it was too, for even the more established artists, Dillon and Campbell to make a career out of painting pictures in the 1950’s. They could barely afford artists’ materials and welcomed the introduction of hardboard as a new support, Dillon even using a blow torch to melt off the old paint of an unsuccessful work so that he could reuse the board.
James MacIntyre was awarded a CEMA travelling scholarship in 1955, which allowed the artist to travel to Paris to study painting. He had a one–person exhibition in the Arts Council Gallery in 1960 and the Bell Gallery, Belfast, held a one–person exhibition of his work in 1967 and again in 1976 and launched his book ‘Three Men on an Island’ with an exhibition in 1996.
After spending some years in London working as a book illustrator, he returned to Northern Ireland and worked in the Belfast College of Art and continued to paint, making Greenisland, Co. Antrim his home. He exhibited with the Royal Ulster Academy from 1948, becoming an associate in 1965 and an Academician in 1985. His diploma painting, a watercolour ‘William James Stewart’s Farm, Knockagh Hill’ depicts a rural scene with the farmer clearing the barn, his iconic black and white cow approaching the hay trough, white walls of barns against a cloudy sky. The flashes of colour in the red barn doors, the colour and movement of the sheets and pillowcases on the line, the simplicity and freshness of paint application, capture the essence of a typical well managed Ulster farm. The artistic inspiration of his visit to Inishlacken, at age 25 years, grounded the young artist and developed his painterly expression for the next sixty years of his long creative life.