When I was a child, around 4 or 5 years old, I saw that my father was reading a library book with a black and white image of an elderly man sitting with his head in hands. I was struck with a sense of overwhelming sadness and when I asked what the picture was of, my father told that it was by an artist called Van Gogh and that Van Gogh painted ‘about feeling’.
This memory set the agenda for my life’s ambition to make an art that is effective and affective – to communicate through my painting something of our shared human condition. We live in an age of the digital, swamped every day by the almost infinite number of photographs and videos that impinge upon our daily lives – but this has only made painting a more focused and significant activity and thrown its very special qualities into high relief.
We are visual creatures, used, in the modern world, to decoding information at a rapid pace – but traditionally an oil painting is about precisely the opposite. We are asked in front of a Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Degas, to stop, and after the initial shock of encounter, to allow ourselves to interact at our own pace with what the artist has set before us.
That’s the challenge, so I hope that in my work, something similar takes place. My art grows out from my personal life – what else could it do? The challenge is to find the subject and the means that make that personal experience something more.
During the last few months I’ve been working with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce on a new and exciting venture. They are reaching out with renewed vigour to fuse their support of Manchester’s cultural life with their more obvious key role in supporting Manchester businesses and to play their part in the social and cultural regeneration of the city. To this end they’ve given over four rooms in their building on Deansgate to house a permanent, but changing display of my work.
The rooms will include my ‘frieze of life’ paintings, works from my 365 series and – very special – almost as a gift to the city – a room in which I’ll show just one work – a quiet space within the rush of a city regenerated – where people can simply come and be, sit quietly and enjoy just one image.
So, I’ve put together a sequence of clips that give me faith in the ability of art to affect change and to celebrate and comment on what we share – the world in which we live with all its joys and complications.
The 365 Series
Since 2006, I have followed the daily practice of making a small 8 x 6 inch painting in direct response to a news image. It began as a response to my being in London on the day of the bombing [7/7/05] – to give back some time and attention to the often anonymous people who appear and then disappear on our screens and newspapers.
Seven Acts of Mercy
Though the Seven Acts of Mercy (or acts of kindness) are a concept at the heart of the world’s major religions they are a crucial element of any civilised society. Lockdown has given me the opportunity to bring together a final sequence of works from the numerous studies that I’ve been making over the years. The titles are open to interpretation and seem to me to encompass the most basic of human rights.
Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Welcome the stranger
Clothe the naked
Visit the imprisoned
Visit the sick
Bury the dead
This is a series of paintings made in response to the actions of a young Muslim man in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack in Manchester. He stood blindfolded in St Ann’s Square where people had gathered to lay flowers, with a cardboard sign at his feet reading ‘I’m Muslim and I trust you, do you trust me enough for a hug?
The female gaze in Ice Age art
A film made by The British Museum about their exhibition, Ice Age Art: the Arrival of the Modern Mind. A charcoal drawing of myself pregnant made around 30 years ago was placed next to some little sculptures of pregnant women made around 30,000 years ago. It was a humbling and deeply moving experience to be part of this extraordinary show which also featured more recent works by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian, particularly as I was the only living artist to be exhibited.
The Fire Within
Curated by the extraordinary artists Al and Al, ‘Love is A Rebellious Bird’ at ‘The Fire Within’ in Wigan brought together ancient artefacts, contemporary painting, sculpture, digital media and installation in a way that reached, entranced and educated the broadest of audiences. Click here for more info.
Brutally beautiful these monumental works by Anselm Kiefer pay homage to Van Gogh one of Kiefer’s heroes and show painting working at its most ambitious level. Click here for more info.
Munch and Emin
Sadly I wasn’t able to get to the recent exhibition of paintings by Edvard Munch and Tracey Emin at The Royal Academy. Munch has been one of my heroes since I saw an exhibition of his work at the Hayward Gallery when I was a student. I was blown away by the raw power of his work and how he used his own life to tackle all the major themes- birth, love, loss, ageing and death. What a challenge it must have been to share an exhibition with such works!
I’ve always admired her work,the power and ambition of her paintings and her ability to tackle often difficult and disturbing themes in an accessible amd immediate way. We are the same age so I suppose that gives me a sense of connection too.
A Child Drawing
Our little granddaughter drawing birds with ferocious concentration and complete intensity.
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