By Séamus Smyth
Staff Writer

“What’s an English bastard like you doing my country?” was the first question Theo Sims was asked by a hostile Irish nationalist named Dominic Crickaid. Sims was enrolled in art school at the time and was busy hosting a party before he was blindsided by the wielding hostility.

“What’s a feignin’ bastard like you doing in my kitchen?” retorted Sims. Miraculously, the conversation didn’t turn to blows. Instead, the two discussed their respective cultures and histories. Sims said he would prefer to be judged based on his character and not strictly by his English heritage.

The two would go on to become great friends, but the introduction would never be forgotten. Sims would go on to receive an MFA from Northern Ireland’s University of Ulster in 1994. He would use the contrast of the Irish and English cultures as a reference for his unique art project called the “Candahar.”

It’s a traveling Irish pub that’s 20 feet by 12 feet by 11 feet (high) and has been all across Canada, but will be calling ACAD home beginning Feb.1.
“You will see it’s just a re-creation of a bar, although a lot of people won’t actually know the sub story behind it—It is deliberately misleading with the sense that you would only understand if you asked. It’s a vehicle for communication, conversation and cross-pollination,” said Sims when taking a break from re-constructing the massive project in the ACAD studio.

Sims said his inspiration came from his confrontation with Crickaid, but he didn’t find his reference material until an archaic pub called Benny’s in Belfast was being torn down due to unsafe conditions in the late 90s.

“It seemed like the passing of culture—when they tore it down they had to put a porter cabin on the site and turn it into a bar so the locals still had somewhere to go,” said Sims.

“My idea was to take this bar apart, have it replaced but re-configured—it would still have the same ol’ barman who has a hunchback from pouring pints his whole life,” he said.

It would eventually be a pub down the road that would serve as his final muse, but the concept of capturing the pub culture remained intact.
The two barmen that SAIT students will have the opportunity to meet this February are two old friends of Sims’, Chris and Connor. The two come from a long line of pub owners and bar managers and Sims said the both were instrumental in inviting top talent to perform in Belfast, even when many were reluctant because of the well-documented, historically violent conflicts.

Sims, who was born in Brighton, England, was never a particularly talented drawer or painter. But art was always the one source that helped make sense of the world he came to know.

“I have always studied art as a way to do things as a catalyst and to make things happen. Art is always a vehicle for something else,” he said.
When he began analyzing the graduates departing English and Irish schools, he was much more enthralled with those coming out of Northern Ireland, despite knowing little about their culture.

He made the bold move to live in the North, without realizing his English background may not be embraced with open arms due to the past colonization policies that have caused tensions to boil over on dozens of occasions over the past hundreds of years.

But Sims refused to flinch. “I found other English people would pretend they were Welsh or Scottish. I thought that was stupid – just be who you are.”

Sims’ stubbornness persevered, and his experiences of Ireland are overwhelmingly positive. He moved to Canada in 1998, where he began working in Winnipeg and still calls the city home.

Whether or not SAIT students and Canadians in general understand the concept of the Candahar is still in question. Sims isn’t fond of the “Disneyification” of Irish pubs in Canada. He said the traditional pub is not filled with Shillelaghs, James Joyce quotes, and servers in kilts, but something much more human.

“The conversation is everything in a pub. There are nights where there is no music played in the pubs. There will be football (soccer) on Wednesdays and music on Fridays for when the women come,” he said.