Art defines cities. The Impressionists painted Paris and captured the Zeitgeist – the spirit of the age, the Expressionists did the same in Berlin.
Art can be big business. Paintings by LS Lowry sell for huge amounts. And yet the true value of art is in its vision.
I’ve chosen these artists because I know them personally and in fact one of them used my photo of the Hacienda as source material, with my permission of course. That’s how I got to know her.
A quick word about the text on screen. I’m a photographer and writer. I’m interested in words and images and I like to see them side by side on screen. It’s also useful for people with a disability, for language learners and also for anyone who for any reason has to have the sound down.
Okay, so let’s go to the exhibition area and take a look…
Caroline Johnson, fine artist and printmaker studied Fine Art and lived in France for 20 years. For her illustration of the Haçienda night club, I’m glad to say she used my photo as source material. With an analytical eye, she depicts the curved façade of the now-demolished building with its salmon-coloured bricks. Magazine cuttings add to the mystery.
St Peters Square is one of many locations she has recorded. This is St Peters Square prior to the renovation, looking towards the Bridgewater Hall. There are modern buildings on the left and on the right the ornate brown-tiled Midland Hotel, with the tram stop in its former location in front of the Central Library. There are strong verticals and the people are dressed for a Manchester winter.
Using relaxed lines she draws the old Cornerhouse arts centre, filled with solid blocks of colour, photo collage and other mixed media. In 2015, HOME became Manchester’s main arts centre.
Her depiction of the Deaf Institute music venue is beautifully detailed. Parked cars and barriers are part of the composition. Empty spaces in the drawing are filled using magazine cutouts with typography.
The curved red brick façade of the Black Lion pub on Chapel Street Salford is rendered in a piercing reddish-brown hue. Outer sections of the drawing are left uncoloured.
I love to photograph the shadowy grey Castlefield railway viaducts, but Caroline has drawn them in an eerie luminous green. The lines are slightly off the vertical, giving a feeling of dizziness as we gaze in awe at these structures.
And now we are looking through the eyes of Karen McBride, the celebrated Manchester music photographer. She started out as an artist, achieved fame and later returned to painting.
Now we see a different vision of Castlefield. At the top, a riot of gold paint and darker shades, and as we look more closely, the familiar shapes of the viaduct emerge, reflected in the murky water. Karen paints in an Expressionist style that’s rooted in memory and emotion.
The Old Town Hall Portico in Heaton Park is engulfed in an angry, warlike red, the paint spilling over and down the pillars, giving a sense of turmoil. Expressionism is defined as ‘using a subjective perspective and distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas’. That definition from Wikipedia fits Karen’s work perfectly.
In Karen’s painting, the tower of the former Refuge Assurance, now a hotel, stands defiant, with sections of the building arranged below it, like protagonists in a play.
Precise sections of window dissolve into a blizzard of brown and grey. The bridge over the Medlock tries to bind the elements together, but is dominated by them.
Karen was born and grew up in Harpurhey, north Manchester. From the bus on Rochdale Road, she often saw a brown, tiled building on a triangular site. Her depiction of the end façade is a curious combination of architectural precision and the chaos of graffiti.
Gary Taylor is from east Manchester. His paintings recreate the old industrial city. His style is simple and direct but the effects are sophisticated and full of atmosphere. Moonlight is reflected on a wet street. Smoke and steam emanate from the power station, as an old-style red Manchester double-decker 53 bus makes its way along Hulme Hall Lane.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Impressionism is characterised by small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, with an emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities’. That description fits Gary Taylor’s work quite well.
With simple strokes and a few dots of paint on the canvas, Gary recreates a lost world. Above the trees, we can see the art deco façade of the former Rylands, later Debenhams. Vivid green is punctuated by red flowers, with a blue sky above. The red lettering on the Arndale Tower and the windows below are rendered in just a few casual brush strokes.
In monochrome, Gary Taylor paints a street leading to a humpback bridge over a canal, with houses, warehouses and chimneys beyond. A woman in a white 1950s-style dress crosses the street and man waits on the corner. Scribbled advertising hoardings bear silent witness to this mysterious scene.
In east Manchester, there were countless, streets, factories and smoking chimney pots. Boy met girl at bus stops, rode the old red and ochre 53 bus and went to the pub. Gary’s painting could be the inspiration for a 1960s kitchen sink drama.
In shades of grey, Gary Taylor conjures up the Manchester Docks. An old sailor leans on the railing, smoking a pipe. He looks out over the dark, oily canal water at the ships, masts, funnels and smoke. What’s in his mind’s eye is what’s there in front of us. The wooden cross, like a grim signpost, adds an ominous element.
It’s easy to idealise the past, but in Gary Taylor’s cityscape of Gorton, we see a monochrome landscape with a modern white block on the left, blackened terraced houses on the right and in the distance under a smoky, grey sky, the outline of Gorton Monastery.
Len Grant is from south Manchester and went to the same school as me, Xaverian College, when it was a boys’ grammar school. After a career change into photography and many years of success, he turned to sketching. As we see in his sketch of the Albert Memorial, his linework is playful and confident. He uses a fountain pen filled with permanent black ink. Then he applies watercolours.
The Bridgewater Hall and its surroundings are unmistakable in a drawing that’s arranged like a triptych using sketchy linework and casually daubed watercolour.
Like Caroline Johnson, Len has depicted the Cornerhouse on Oxford Road, its familiar narrow façade framed between architectural elements that are not that close together in real life. He is able to bend reality in a way that’s impossible in photography.
Len Grant doesn’t just draw pictures. He engages in community-based projects, mingling with people, drawing them and their familiar locations. The results are published in miniature books.
Eamonn Murphy was born in Chester and lives in Stockport. He has worked in advertising and graphic design. His post-minimalist illustrations have the precision of architectural drawings but the homely appeal of brightly coloured railway posters. Through Eamonn Murphy’s eyes, HOME arts centre looks as shiny and pristine as on the day it opened.
Using digital illustration, he is able to reduce complex architecture down to its simplest forms, revealing its essential character. It works for modern styles of architecture and traditional ones too, like the Central Library.
He can bring out the best in modern buildings, which some people might consider as not so attractive. The Beetham tower is an abstract pattern of lines and parallelograms in pastel shades. The beam of light from above looks like a straightened, colourless rainbow.
The church-like windows of the John Rylands Library, its pinnacles, battlements and brown sandstone walls are reduced to a simple set of shapes, revealing things you might not have noticed, for instance that the windows on the front are not symmetrical.
Manchester Central, the former Central Station, is perhaps the ideal subject matter for Eamonn Murphy, an exercise in geometric forms, rectangles, triangles and curves, with the asymmetrical modern entrance at the front. The old fashioned clock has incredible detail. A combination of modern and traditional, sometimes harmonious, sometimes not, that’s Manchester.
Five artists, each one with their own vision, one city, actually two, Manchester and Salford.
To see local scenes depicted in art I recommend going to Manchester Art Gallery or the Lowry Salford Quays. You can also browse the windows of the private galleries in Manchester city centre or go to Manchester Central Library.
More details in the description below and of course, don’t forget to like this video, subscribe to the channel and click the ‘bell’ button for notifications. And tell other people about these artists.
That’s all from me so it’s auf Wiedersehen, see you soon!