Cafe Conor turns new page with Shawcross Penguin exhibition

Celebrated Belfast-based artist Neil Shawcross will unveil a colourful new range of canvasses at Conor Cafe on June 30 to celebrate his love of Penguin Books.

The seven new paintings– including some of Penguin’s most famous titles – will grace the walls of the popular South Belfast restaurant and are sure to be a talking point among its loyal customers.

In the year that Penguin celebrates its 75th anniversary Shawcross has created seven large scale replicas of different Penguin titles in the distinctive primary colours used by the famous paperback company.

The titles displayed on the walls of Conor Cafe include FL Green’s Odd Man Out, Lynn Doyle’s Ballygullion, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man.

Co-owner Manus McConn has known the artist for many years and has displayed dozens of his works at Conor, which is situated on the Stranmillis Road opposite the Ulster Museum,  and his other restaurant, Greens Pizzeria on the Lisburn Road.

Manus said: “Every time the canvasses change there is a feeling of sadness because I get so used to what is on the wall. But there is always an excitement about a new display of Neil’s work. I am sure the public will love these images of Penguin books.”

And Conor partner William Clark added: “The restaurant was originally the studio of the artist William Conor and we feel it adds to the atmosphere in the cafe to feature these iconic paintings by Neil Shawcross.”

Four of the new acrylic works are seven feet by four and a half feet to reflect the dimensions of the books, which are seven inches by four and a half inches. They have been placed on the main wall facing the entrance of the restaurant. Three smaller paintings have been hung on the opposite wall.

The new works at Cafe Conor coincide with a major exhibition of his earlier Penguin-inspired water colours, which opens at the Naughton Gallery in Queen’s the same day. It is the first time there has been an exhibition devoted to this aspect of his work.

“The Naughton Gallery exhibition features 20 original watercolours all depicting different Penguin titles. It is a perfect location because of its proximity to the new library at Queen’s,” he said.

The book-loving artist, who owns hundreds of titles from the Penguin publishing house, believes that the design created for their mass produced paperbacks is one of the most iconic of the 20th century.

“I have been working on the original image of penguin books for more than 20 years. It is one of the classic icons of 20th century design. It has two elements that are very significant in the way I paint – colour and line. There is a beautiful symmetry about this design, which I really love.”

Shawcross’s Penguin books are reminiscent of the brand-led imagery of pop art works such as Andy Warhol’s famous Campbell Soup cans.