IF you haven’t heard of David Mulholland, don’t worry. According to those who knew him, he wasn’t very interested in self-promotion and would often barter his paintings for goods and services.
Apparently his dentist built up quite a nice collection.
A steelworker’s son from South Bank, Middlesbrough, he attended the local secondary modern school until he was 15 but ended up at the Royal College of Art having shown precocious talent as an artist.
By a twist of fate, his own story and the sombre 10th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities come together today as three of David Mulholland’s paintings go on display at the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough.
Large and expressive, they were done in response to seeing the attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre unfold on television on the morning of September 11, 2001.
They are quite shocking images, full of anguish and confusion, pulling no punches and seemingly created in the heat of the moment.
Pat McCarthy, formerly a member of the Amber film and photography collective in Newcastle, knew David Mulholland, a fellow Teessider, for many years.
With husband Pete and other friends of the artist, Pat has arranged for these paintings, which haven’t been seen in public before, to be displayed at the Dorman Museum where there is also to be a space for quiet contemplation of the events of a decade ago.
Pat says David spent the last years of his life painting some of the momentous events that entered most of our lives through television – the conflicts in the Gulf and the Balkans and also the Asian tsunami.
While he had spent much of his life as an artist inspired by the people and industry of Teesside and the beauty of the surrounding countryside and coastline, David made a point of always producing a painting on Remembrance Sunday.
But some of his later large paintings articulate his concerns about the human cost of manmade catastrophes and natural disasters.
Arguably the worst of these came on 9/11 when a terrible tragedy unfolded on daytime television in front of millions of people powerless to help.
A press release from the Dorman explains David’s response: “Like most people, he was deeply shocked, though transfixed, by continuous reruns of the twin towers collapsing.”
David produced three paintings – his 9/11 triptych – but showed them to very few people. When he died in 2005, having been suffering from throat cancer, they were left in trust with three of his friends, Len Tabner, Ian McDonald and Graham Smith, with the instruction that they should be shown at an appropriate time.
“The 10th anniversary seemed like an appropriate time,” says Pat.
The fact that David would have been 65 on September 12 made it seem even more so.
Pat says David was an exceptional talent. “In the 1970s he was about to become one of the really up-and-coming artists but he shunned the art establishment. He didn’t like what was expected of him.
“He worked in all sorts of media, oil paints and charcoals, and most of the time he painted the people and places around South Bank. He was an artist on board ship for a while.”
In a biography by Pete McCarthy, to be found on the website www.davidmulholland.co.uk, a staff member at the Royal College of Art is quoted as saying of David: “It was clear that London could not contain him for long.”
According to Pat he liked a drink, or rather drinks, but he left a large body of exceptional work which is being catalogued by his friends – supported by the artist’s five children from his two marriages – and there are plans for a book and a major exhibition at the Dorman Museum next year.
Pat says his achievements owed much to an art teacher at Victoria Street Secondary Modern, Tom Dalton, who guided him, and also Len Tabner, David’s one-time classmate and another fine Teesside-based artist.
The story goes that an 11-year-old David Mulholland approached the teacher and said: “Mr Dalton, I want to be an artist. Can you help me?”
According to Pat, Mr Dalton is still alive and well but keeps his own counsel, saying simply that his boys’ work should speak for itself.
You can see David Mulholland’s Response to 9/11 at the Dorman Museum, Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, from today until October 2. More details: www.dormanmuseum.co.uk or 01642 358101.