The Irish Arts Center (IAC), based in New York City, gathered friends and supporters on Tuesday night, October 3, for the unveiling of a new portrait of US Senator George Mitchell by renowned Belfast-born contemporary artist Colin Davidson.
IAC commissioned the portrait in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in tribute to Senator Mitchell, who, as the US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, co-chaired the talks leading to the historic peace agreement.
The portrait of Mitchell is a part of Davidson's Selected Paintings and Drawings exhibition at the IAC, which runs through December 17.
Also being staged at the IAC is Silent Testimony, an exhibition of large-scale portrait paintings by Davidson that reveals the stories of 18 people connected by their individual experiences of loss through the Troubles, the turbulent 30-year period in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s onwards.
The exhibition, curated by Kim Mawhinney, Senior Curator of Art at National Museums Northern Ireland, concludes on October 8.
.@colin_davidson's critically acclaimed #SilentTestimony closes this weekend. View his series of 18 large scale portraits exploring common humanity through Sunday. Other works of his, Selected Paintings and Drawings, are on display thru Dec 17.October 3, 2023
Addressing attendees gathered in the IAC’s Devlin Cafe on Tuesday evening, Executive Director Aidan Connolly described Senator Mitchell and Colin Davidson as exemplars of “the core values of creativity and decency, manifested through art and through action, with patience and with tenacity, for the benefit of the common good.”
IAC’s commission was underwritten by Robert J. McCann & Kea Capel, and noted Irish American philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman.
Introducing Davidson, Glucksman expressed her concern about the polarized politics of today’s Washington, contrasting them with Mitchell’s tenure as Majority Leader.
“But then we have nights like this," Glucksman said. "And we go upstairs, and we look at magnificent pieces of art by Colin Davidson, who lived through that triumphant, terrifying period.”
Glucksman described the exhibition of Davidson’s work as epitomizing the intention of IAC’s new home: to demonstrate that “Ireland is a wonderful, fertile ground for creativity, for beauty, and for friendship.”
We gathered tonight for the unveiling of the artist @colin_davidson's portrait of Senator George Mitchell, a key architect of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, in celebration of its 25th anniversary year and the U.S. premiere of Davidson's exhibition #SilentTestimony. pic.twitter.com/CKYFT5RxoE— Irish Arts Center (@IrishArtsCenter) October 4, 2023
Davidson said on Tuesday: “Senator Mitchell, thank you from the bottom of my heart, as a man who was born in Belfast, has stayed there, and calls it home.
"It’s the best place in the entire world to live, and the people are the best, and we are all indebted to you. Your work has given my kids a future. Your work has ensured that many more thousands of people like the 18 we see upstairs have not been bereaved and are not enduring an ongoing trauma to this day. We love you for that.”
Davidson added that the point of Silent Testimony “is not in any way to drag you back to the past, not in any way to drag the dark days back into the now, but to look at where we are now, and simply to say, ‘this is the fallout of conflict—this is the fallout of all conflict.’”
Last night, I had the great honour of unveiling my new portrait of Senator George Mitchell at the Irish Arts Center in New York, in the presence of this quiet titan of peace. Thank you, Senator, for your central role in allowing my children to have a future. pic.twitter.com/fsIHneIP72— Colin Davidson (@colin_davidson) October 4, 2023
Robert J. McCann, who also serves on the IAC Board, introduced Senator Mitchell, a longtime friend and, in Mitchell’s post-Senate career, a close collaborator. He proclaimed Senator Mitchell the perfect embodiment of the qualities Mitchell himself once described as essential to leadership: “The wisdom to know what is right, the courage to say what is right, the strength to do what is right.”
McCann also praised Colin Davidson and Silent Testimony, saying “Your work makes us reckon with our past, and it helps us think about an optimistic and positive future.”
Speaking just after the unveiling of the portrait, Senator Mitchell said that Silent Testimony “documents, in a moving and unforgettable way, the terrible tragedy of the troubles, the killing, the unbearable losses, the maiming, the fear, the suffering.
"It's all there, in their lives, in their faces, in their eyes. at its best, can convey more effectively than mere words, emotion, pleasure, pain.”
Mitchell explained that his paternal grandfather was an Irish immigrant to Boston and that the Senator’s father was raised in an orphanage and had no sense of his Irish heritage.
He recalled that when President Clinton asked him to serve as his representative in Northern Ireland, the President said it would be part-time and, “It turned out to be five very long, difficult, and intense years.
"But, in retrospect, it was one of the great experiences of my life. Because I was fortunate to spend much of the later part of my life in the land of my father's family.
"I like to think he’s looking down at us this evening, pleased that his son has gained some sense of the Irish heritage that he had, but that he never knew or understood.”