Oil paintings capture the golden age of sail

John Halsall at his exhibition at the Erin Arts Centre, Port Erin

John Halsall at his exhibition at the Erin Arts Centre, Port Erin

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Beautiful oil paintings capturing the golden age of sail are on display in an exhibition of work by John Halsall at the Erin Arts Centre, Port Erin, until May 30.

John is passionate about sailing ships and combines this with his talent for art to produce some stunning work, a handful of which – 24 paintings – are on display. The rest crowd his small Douglas home or are on display at houses on and off island.

‘I’m very prolific,’ said John. ‘I just cannot stop painting. I was given this [gift] and I just use it.

‘I’m fanatical on sailing and ships. I always say I was born too late … When I was a child I always wanted to go to sea, my father was in the navy. They are so beautiful [the sailing ships], when you see them. That era has gone, then a ship was a ship.’

Born in 1943 he was brought up in Laxey and his love of the sea was always evident, he remembers playing truant from school to go to listen to an old sea dog tell him tales of the sea.

Being dyslexic and left handed, he struggled at school, but he could always draw and his art teacher at Ballakermeen High School, Douglas, wanted him to go to art college, but his step father would not allow it, so he pursued his other love – the sea – and joined the Steam Packet in 1958.

In 1959 he joined the Merchant Navy and continued a life at sea for more than 20 years.

He was also in the fishing industry and owned a fishing boat (he still owns and fishes from Manx Heather, moored in Douglas).

Whenever possible, he picks up the paint brush. ‘It’s mainly ships,’ he said. ‘It’s what I see in my own head. With the old clipper ships I use books for reference because I have to know where the rigging is, you get experts saying: “That’s not right” otherwise. Also I have models of the old boats.’

His art brought him the trip of a lifetime in 2003 when he and his wife Sheila flew to San Diego to take part in the 140th anniversary celebrations on board the Star of India.

The ship is his favourite vessel to paint and after an exhibition of his work he was invited to exhibit on board the ship for the anniversary.

‘It was fantastic, it was a dream come true,’ he said of the trip. ‘I took the helm, it was beyond my wildest dreams.’

He doesn’t hold many exhibitions, so this is a rare chance to see his work on display.

He added: ‘I do like to see them being seen and they should be seen.’

The Erin Arts Centre, in Victoria Square, is open Wednesday to Friday 10.30am to 4.30pm and half an hour before any event.

The centre can be contacted by phoning 835858.

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