Brian (J.B.) Vallely could be genuinely said to be a Renaissance man – since the founder of the Armagh Pipers Club is, of course, also one of Ireland’s foremost painters and a stalwart of the Armagh Athletics Club. Traditional music and sport also feature strongly as themes in many of the artworks on display in the Sol Gallery in Dublin in a special exhibition to mark 60 years as an exhibited artist.
Brian recalls his first steps into the art world at the age of seventeen:
“In 1958, following a year at art classes under the direction of a remarkable man Peter McGirr who ran evening art classes in Armagh College of Technology, I took part in the exhibition he organised featuring work executed by his students.
“The exhibition took place in the Art Studios in the old Market House, Market Street, Armagh City Centre and I sold my first painting at this show receiving the then unbelievable price of £5 for it.”
Five years later eight of his paintings were bought for the Irish display at the 1963 World Fair in New York and by 1968, the Irish Times acclaimed him as “one of the more exciting Irish painters under the age of thirty.”
During his prolific career as an artist he has produced over 4,000 works – including commissions for album and book covers. His paintings appear in the collections of major galleries and universities in over a dozen countries. He has received over 250 major awards for his creativity.
“So here I am 60 years later still enjoying painting as much as ever. The work here has all been completed since the beginning of 2018 and mostly consists of my favourite subject music with a few paintings featuring the Armagh/Cork sport of ‘bullet throwing’ the name by which the sport of road bowling is popularly known in Armagh. I have also included a few paintings featuring cycling a sport I enjoy watching. To mark the occasion I worked to produce 60 paintings to celebrate my 60 years’ painting,” he added.
His latest pictures display Brian’s characteristic method of responding to the energy and passion of his subjects with dramatic brush-strokes and a bold use of the palette knife to texture the paint on the canvas. The resulting images are lively and dynamic like the music or the sporting action he depicts.
His other cultural creation, the Armagh Pipers Club – which he established with his wife, Eithne, in 1966 – has grown into an amazing centre for the teaching of traditional music – with legions of graduates now playing music both for personal pleasure and as professionals – including, of course, their own children, Niall (concertina) and Caoimhín (piano) in the band Buille, and Cillian (pipes) playing with Lúnasa.
The Club’s enduring and impressive role in the promotion of traditional music was recognised earlier this year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards presentation of the Good Tradition award. As part of its ongoing fundraising efforts, the Club is selling a limited edition of fifty prints of one of Brian’s paintings – each signed and numbered by the artist. The painting, The Living Tradition, features three traditional musicians – playing fiddle, concertina and flute – and was created especially for the Club. They are available from the Club (www.armaghpipers.com) for £200 (plus postage).