Derry’s Culture year has ‘reframed the city’

Derry artist Joe Campbell beside his 42 foot long comic book, 'Distant Fields'. (50713JC10 Photo: Gav Connolly)
Derry artist Joe Campbell beside his 42 foot long comic book, 'Distant Fields'. (50713JC10 Photo: Gav Connolly)

The recent success of Joe Campbell’s colossal comic book, ‘Distant Fields’ has prompted the Derry artist to reflect on the smaller successes of 2013 - a year in which he believes City of Culture has “reframed the city”.

Joe’s 42 foot-long ‘Distant Fields’ is the first of his series of 2013 projects, supported by a Culture Company Individual Artist award. Launched initially in Shantallow Library, the giant comic book then moved to Foyleside’s central plaza, where it mesmerised locals and visitors alike.

Joe admits he was “kinda proud” at the public reaction to his work. “I went to photograph it and it was surrounded by people just staring at it and then moving or walking slowly round the central seating area to read it. Funny enough, there were three young fathers each pushing prams and going round in circles, reading away. I wouldn’t say this normally, but I was kinda proud.”

He was particularly pleased that the re-imagining of his original comic-book seemed to capture the imagination. “What was happening was what I had hoped for - that an art-piece in a public space has the ability not just to become part of people’s everyday lives, but also the power of stopping someone and making them think about something that has little to do with their everyday thoughts - allowing them to switch off.”

Joe believes that this is a legacy issue. “It’s funny how City of Culture has reframed the city. I worked in what is now the Glassworks as a stained glass artist for eight years - it was just me in that big room on my own. Now, they are making TV in there. I exhibited the comic book in Noelle McAlinden’s Gallery in Pump Street in a room where I had taught eight Youth Training Programme teenagers for six years in the 1980s - that’s now a gallery. And as I walked out of Foyleside I could still picture the Casbah Bar where the Undertones first started... maybe it’s just my age, but all those spaces have been utterly transformed,” he reflected.

“Perhaps, now as we ask the question about what should form a legacy from 2013, we should consider ideas like a bursary for individual artists to keep creating new art across the city, or a small-scale trust fund buoyed by a few pounds contribution from local people or their communities.”