- Cover Note
Colin Middleton (1910–83). Bon Voyage, 1976, oil on panel, 62 x 62 cm. The image appears courtesy of the Gordon Lambert Collection of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the estate of Colin Middleton.
This issue's cover image, Bon Voyage, is the work of the Belfast-based artist Colin Middleton, whose eclectic career spanned a long period—from the 1930s to the 1980s. Middleton's output encompassed painting, poetry, textiles, mosaics, and scenic design for the theatre. He lived much of his life in Ireland, where he was influenced by artists such as Jack B. Yeats, but he also looked abroad for inspiration, participating enthusiastically in avant-garde experiments from the continent. Surrealism captured his attention, and when a friend introduced him to the works of Salvador Dali, Middleton began to experiment with key features of the movement, including mannequin-like female figures, dream landscapes, and witty juxtapositions of discordant objects. "You could say," Middleton commented, "that in the nineteen-thirties I was the only Surrealist painter working in Ireland."1 This remark suggests the ground that Middleton shared with continentally inclined Irish writers, [End Page 9] including James Joyce (whom he credited as an influence), Samuel Beckett, and Elizabeth Bowen, each of whom discovered the artistic potential inherent in the merging of Irish literary traditions with techniques learned from Surrealism.2
Middleton's paintings of the nineteen-thirties and forties are full of direct allusions to the styles of prominent European Surrealists, including the sands of Dali and the deserted cityscapes of Giorgio de Chirico; later in his career Middleton returned to Surrealist aesthetics to forge a more personal, and distinctively Irish, interpretation of the movement. In The Walls of Limerick (1970), Middleton combines Celtic and Surrealist inspirations to present a leprechaun on a scooter. His later works also register the origins of his career in the damask-designing business he inherited from his father: many canvases are inhabited by bolts of colorful fabric that mysteriously become dresses or roll out like red carpets for delicate, fairy-tale heroines. Bon Voyage (1976), with its doll-like protagonist moving through the sky in a ballooning, patterned skirt, floated by a box kite, is characteristic of the second Surrealist period of Middleton's career.
Keri Walsh is a Ph.D. candidate and Quin Morton Fellow at Princeton University. Her dissertation, "Antigone in Modernism: Classicism, Feminism, and Theatres of Protest," examines the transformations of Sophocles' heroine in literature and performance in works by George Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Jean Anouilh, and others. Her research interests include Greek tragedy, modern drama, and the connections among Irish, French, and British modernism. Walsh is currently preparing an edition of the correspondence of Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses and founder of the legendary Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company.
1. Middleton quoted in John Hewitt's study Colin Middleton (Belfast, 1976), 44.
2. For related analysis, see Keri Walsh's "Elizabeth Bowen, Surrealist," p. 126.