Derry artist, Tommy Long, opened his ‘Going Back’ exhibition in the Millennium Forum this week.
Tommy’s paintings capture local figures set against a backdrop of gritty urban landscapes. The large scale canvases use collage to represent the artist’s most vivid childhood experiences, as he explained.
“The paintings and prints are basically based on memories of my own childhood, and youth,” he said.
“The people I like to paint are ‘my people’. When I find a character I want to paint I create a dream-like fragmented environment for them to dwell in, and the background will usually be a collage of up to 20 different images.
“The painting of the fire, for example, is based on photographs I took one night while I was working in a local shop in Creggan. I looked out the window and could see a few of the local kids sitting round a fire in the middle of the night.
“Observing the scene I noticed that the colours were amazing, with the black silhouettes of the building set against a dark blue sky and the orange flames reflected on their faces.
“Lots of memories came flooding back of my own childhood when I was allowed out late one night with my friends - the scene seemed so familiar to me. I guess it’s the freedom of it that appealed to me. I tend to use universal images of birds and fire in my current work to represent this freedom so resonant in childhood.
Tommy studied art and design at St. Columb’s College before moving on to art college at the University of Ulster campus in Belfast.
It was during his time studying art in Belfast that Tommy won the prestigious Carson and McDowell award.
One of the painting’s in Tommy exhibition shows a young girl in a red coat standing in front of Free Derry Corner.
The photo of the girl was taken five years ago but Tommy used old photos of the Derry landmark to make the landmark feel more authentic and of a particular time.
“The painting of the little girl is about the dignity and strength that is present in every child but often unnoticed. The background is gritty and will take people back to their own past I hope.”
“The little girl’s name is Taylor McNair. I first met her when she came into the shop I used to work in in Creggan many years ago.
“The next time she came in with her mum I told her that I wanted to take a photo of Taylor, with her mum’s permission of course. I thought there was something really special about her so I did. And here we are five or six years later and the wee girl who is in the painting was at the exhibition - you couldn’t make it up.
“I also just found out that my granny was brought up in the house in the left hand side of the painting. I painted it without even knowing that.”
The exhibition will run until December 9. With the announcement of the Turner Prize winner on December 2 this is a ground-breaking time for visual arts in the city.
“I’m delighted to be showing my work this year, there is so much going on,” Tommy declared. “It’s a fantastic time for visual arts in the city with the Turner prize being here and to have people talking about art is fantastic! I feel it’s extra special for me to have the opportunity to exhibit in my own town - after all the work is both about and for the people of Derry.”
Tommy’s next exhibition takes place in the London Street Gallery. The exhibition starts on December 18 and runs into the New Year.
“I can’t believe the help and support I have received over the years, especially from my mother, Martina, and sister, Melissa.
“I am so happy the Millennium Forum have given me the chance to exhibit my work. I am also really looking forward to showing my work in the London Street Gallery.
“With a bit of luck, I will be able to move to New York and study at the Arts Student League.”
If you would like to contact Tommy Long telephone him on 07708696508 or email Tommy: firstname.lastname@example.org