(Left: John Luke's mural at Belfast City Hall, showing the Royal Charter of 1613, painted in 1950. Click the image to enlarge).

Even though I went to the Art College in Belfast (1990 – 1994) I have very little knowledge of our local artistic heritage. I opted to take a commercial route, rather than self-expression, with my own career and so I ended up as a graphic designer with a love of old tourism posters. However, one Ulster artist whose work I have always greatly admired is John Luke (1906-1975). The first painting of his that I saw was "The Road to the West" (painted in 1944) which was then (and might still be) in the UTV art collection.

John Luke has an interesting background, in that his parents were from Ahoghill (some say Randalstown) and moved to booming industrial Belfast where John was born in Lewis Street. Apparently his early works were painting King Billy on gable walls. Later he painted the magnificent mural in Belfast City Hall which shows the Royal Charter if 1613 being read (see pic below). So I Googled him the other day and found to my horror that one of his public ?murals, about 30 feet by 20 feet, languishes in the possession of a Belfast demolition firm (see story here) – a firm who were involved in a publicly funded �20m construction project and who then claimed the Luke mural under a salvage clause in the contract. (You might think that a firm who have presumably done very well from the public purse would demonstrate some goodwill and return the mural to the people of Northern Ireland).

Anecdotally, I am told that some of Luke's family were Brethren evangelists, but the John himself became a vegan Buddhist and died in poverty from a malnutrition-related illness.

Rory Fitzpatrick speaks of Luke's work – "…how many people looking at the work of the Belfast artist John Luke would recognize in it a theme going back to the beginnings of the Scots-Irish?… it is always Sunday in Luke's work, families walking their dogs through the green, drumlin country in the warm afternoon, or evening after work as a father comes home to a white Ulster farmhouse set in formal idyllic landscape. Luke himself called it 'the eternal, now' but it is in essence that curiously innocent Scots-Irish vision, the land of peace and plenty, often expounded in the past from Presbyterian pulpits and expressed in Biblical language…". (from God's Frontiersmen, p 274).

If any of the Luke family read this, I would love to hear from you.

NB – As far as I know, all of these painting are copyright of Luke's estate, these digital images been sourced from various websites.

> Ulster History Circle biography and plaque

> Wikipedia entry for John Luke

> Biography of John Luke

The Road to the West, 1944


The Old Callan Bridge, Armagh, 1945

The Lock at Edenderry, 1944


Ballygally Castle, 1939


Landscape with Figures, 1948