Billy’s ‘love letter to Lurgan’

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An art exhibition billed ‘Billy Hussey - A Love Letter to Lurgan’ is being held in the town hall later this month.

The exhibition is the brainchild of BBC Radio Foyle star and former Lurgan man Mark Patterson and will feature the work of well known local artist Billy Hussey who passed away in April.

Billy taught art to a generation of people in Lurgan Tech, and pupils will remember his love of the subject in all its forms - painting, books, music and film.

The exhibition will take three strands with friezes much treasured by the town’s Mechanic’s Institute making one strand, his marvellous Ulster Coastal work another and his recreations of Georgian Belfast the third.

Many of his large friezes have to this day adorned the walls of the Institute, painted in his highly personalised and colourful style. This work is his civic testament and contains references to the style of Billy’s former teacher, the great John Luke.

Describing how the exhibition came to be Mark Patterson, a former Lurgan College pupil and now a fixture on the Londonderry/Derry airwaves, said: “I knew Billy personally and on the day we buried him I was moved to go to the Town Hall, I had always wanted to bring his work there.

“I met with manager Kate Freeburn who wanted to organise an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the refurbishment of the Town Hall.” It was very definitely a meeting of minds and the council then asked Mark to curate the exhibition and he’s been bowled over by the response to his plans.

He told the ‘MAIL’; “It’s been mindblowing, incredible. The Mechanic’s Institute have had his friezes on display for years and they are much treasured, they were more than happy to allow me to include them in the exhibition.”

He thanked the council, Kate Freeburn and the Mechanics’ Institute for their co-operation and also passed on thanks to local professional photographer Boyd McClurg for his talented assistance.

The exhibition opens on Friday, November 20, in the town hall at 7pm. It will run for three weeks and anyone wishing to bring groups is asked to contact the town hall in advance.

A conversationalist and principled contrarian, Billy rarely sold a painting. Sought after and offered countless commissions, he preferred to paint from the heart.

For the most part he just gave his paintings away to friends, including Mark’s father (also Billy). His work stands as a social history of Lurgan, its characters and traders.

Billy faced cancer twice in his last years. Despite the seriousness and frustration of that condition, he was still able to banter with his nurses at Belfast Cancer Centre. He died peacefully on 21st April.

An intelligent, irreligious man of the left, he despised sectarianism all his life and yearned for a time when people here could live peacefully as neighbours again.