Tyrone artists using murals to inspire young people as they look for work

Artist Jim McKee with Mayor Christian Champire and Director of General Services, Ali Boukacem in Grenay France.
Artist Jim McKee with Mayor Christian Champire and Director of General Services, Ali Boukacem in Grenay France.

An international artist from County Tyrone has returned this week from a six week stay in the French town of Grenay where he painted seven murals on cemetery walls with twenty four young people in a project that aims to inspire young adults who are unemployed or beginning their careers.

Jim McKee, who is from Cookstown and now based in Donaghmore and the West of Ireland, was awarded the contract for a second year running and was commissioned by the Mayor of Grenay, Mr Christian Champire to design and paint seven murals which covered themes such as peace, nature, love, dreams, imagination, animals and solidarity.

“The town of Grenay has great links to Ireland as it is twinned with Ballyshannon in Co Donegal,” said Jim, “and I have been connected to its people for sixteen years since I first visited as a musician to take part in their annual Slainte Folk Festival.

“I have exhibited art pieces in the town of Lens in recent years and when the opportunity to paint murals came along in Grenay, I was honoured that the Mayor selected me for the job.”

Grenay has strong links to the First World War and many soldiers from the UK and Ireland are buried in the cemeteries in the surrounding towns and villages.

“When I was there I was delighted to meet with a family from Armagh who were there to trace their relative who had died on Bastille Day exactly one hundred years ago,” said Jim. “It was a very moving experience and each time I visit Grenay I come home more educated on our shared history.

“The project was a challenge in many ways, not to mention the language barrier and also coming up with new ideas following last year’s works, but it is very fulfilling and I am delighted to have been asked by the Mayor to return next summer for a third term to finish the panels on the remaining cemetery walls.”

Jim will return to Grenay on October 7th as special guest at a civic reception hosted by the Mayor and the murals will be officially launched with a local brass band performance and a plaque will be erected to mark the occasion. Jim will also perform at a concert in Grenay’s theatre that evening.

“As an artist, it is always an honour to be invited to different countries,” says Jim, “and I hope my relationship with the north of France continues for many years to come.”

For further information on Jim McKee, please visit his website www.jimmckeeart.com