Gladys Maccabe was educated at Brookvale Collegiate School in Belfast where her talent was nurtured and encouraged. Each year, she completed The Royal Drawing Society examination and, when she was 16, was invited to attend their Studios in London, so impressed had they been with her work. However, Gladys chose to remain in Belfast to be with her mother, since Gladys' father had died when she was only 11 years old. Determined to pursue a career in the arts however, she enrolled at the Belfast College of Art, despite the fact that it was most certainly not the 'done thing' for young ladies at the time. There, she studied drawing, painting and fashion design, excelling in all fields and achieving the award of 'Student with the Best All - Round Work' upon graduation.
In 1941, Gladys married Max Maccabe, whom she had known since childhood. It was she who encouraged Max to begin painting and they held their first joint exhibition in London's Kensington Gallery in 1949.
Belfast during the Second World War was not a hospitable place for artists and yet, despite this - or perhaps because of it - there flourished a deeply creative well of artistic talent.
Gladys can count among her contemporaries such distinguished Irish artists as Daniel O'Neill (1920 - 1974); George Campbell (1917 -1979); Markey Robinson (1918 -1999); Gerard Dillon (1916 -1971); Charles Lamb (1893 - 1965); William Conor (1881 - 1968); Frank McKelvey (1895 - 1974); Colin Middleton (1910 - 1983); Maurice Wilks (1911 - 1984); Kenneth Webb (b. 1927) and many more.
Along with exhibiting regularly, Gladys contributed a weekly fashion column to The Belfast Newsletter - which was accompanied by her illustrations - for many years and also wrote for The Sunday Independent and broadcast for R.T.E. In the course of her work, she attended the top fashion shows in Paris and London, meeting and interviewing some of the best-known designers.
She has contributed regular articles to many newspapers and other publications on the themes of art, history, folklore, nature and travel. Gladys and Max brought their joint love of music and art to every corner of Northern Ireland. They travelled to country halls and little villages to present the local people with informative - but informal - talks on art, accompanied by their playing of the violin and piano. They gave their time unselfishly and these talks were very successful. Gladys and Max continued to give them for many years.
Gladys founded The Ulster Society of Women Artists in 1957. She felt there was a need for the women artists to combine their creative energies for the benefit of all. It has been hugely successful, has many members and holds an annual exhibition.
In 1980, Gladys was awarded an Honorary Master of Arts Degree from Queens University, Belfast, in recognition of her contribution to the arts. She received an M.B.E. for Services to the Arts from Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on 21st November 2000.
Gladys still lives in Belfast and continues to be as active as ever. She is Art Critic for The Ulster Tatler. She paints regularly and her work is becoming increasingly sought after. Her work is on show in several galleries throughout the North and South of Ireland. Sadly, her soul mate and best friend - her husband of fifty-nine years - Max, died in 2000. She has two grown up sons - Christopher and Hugh - and has three grandchildren.
Her interest in fashion has never left her and she is always glamorous and incredibly stylish. She has remained so very young at heart and lives by the maxim 'be true to yourself.' A remarkable lady with an equally remarkable talent.
Gladys Maccabe has been painting for almost all of her life. There can only be a handful of Irish artists alive today who can claim to be painting for as long as Gladys.
Throughout her life, she has remained dedicated to her art, always finding time for it, never neglecting the talent she so obviously possesses. Her work is both charming and accessible - like the artist herself. She has a deep love of people and the human spirit and this comes through most strongly in her paintings. Her photographic memory allows her to store in her mind images, which she can draw on later for inspiration. Most of her work is concerned with the depiction of gatherings of people.
She says; 'I've always been interested in people, from my earliest days. I've been interested in the way they stand, the way they look, the way their clothes hang on them.' '...We are inexorably bound together into a composite whole. Therefore, when I see a crowd, I get a sense of excitement as well as a feeling of what can only be described as compassion, and am often moved to record what I see.' In these paintings of crowds, she overlaps the figures so that they illustrate her feeling that we are all somehow connected to each other. Whether the figures are at a race meeting; a fair or market; on pilgrimage; going to church or at a café; or at an evening dance, the overriding sense we get is one of a common purpose - of an experience shared. The figures are all engaged in the same activity and the knowledge of this, along with the feeling we ourselves have often experienced in these very situations, allows us to be more than onlookers - we can almost become part of the scene. The manner in which Gladys often 'leads' us into the picture by placing figures in the foreground 'walking' into the activity contributes to our feeling of empathy with the crowd.
Still life studies form a large part of Gladys' output. Using the storehouse of images in her mind, she constructs beautiful compositions of colour and strength, which have a definite spiritual quality. There is certain flamboyance in her still life paintings - flowers bursting with blossoms; large, ripe fruit and bottles of red wine. She very often includes objects, which have a particular significance to the artist - a glass jar filled with paintbrushes or a palette dotted with small patches of paint.
Clowns feature often in Gladys' work. She says that she is not sure why they appeal to her as subject matter, but that; '...Perhaps it's because they represent a paradox, like life itself.'
Her clowns, however, are never unnerving or strange. Rather, they are visually appealing studies - hugely colourful and painted in an altogether less meticulous manner than her other work. This has the effect of imbuing them with an almost childlike charm.
The use of so many figures in her work allows Gladys to indulge her love of fashion and style to the full. In all of her crowd scenes, each figure is individually described, given particular features and specific clothing. In her scenes of hotel interiors and dinner dances, this interest is to the fore. Beautifully dressed ladies with long swirling gowns, rippling with swirls and frills, dance or glide about the room. Their hair piled on top of their heads, their necks draped with jewels - each one as different as the next. Gladys is very fond of the Edwardian era - perhaps because she was born during that time - and enjoys painting the style of dress, which was popular then.
Horses feature prominently in her work. She has always been fascinated with them and includes them in many of her crowd scenes such as horse fairs, gymkhanas and race days.
Gladys' work is usually executed with acrylics on board. She likes the fluidity afforded by this medium, but also uses oils, watercolours and pen and ink.