As I mentioned in my last blog, I am working on a major new project, and I’m glad to now be able to announce it. The project has the working title (and hashtag) KurbArt, and brings street art and gallery art together by presenting public art pieces in a gallery style, separately hung to a common top line, with title/artist plaques next to each. The end result will be 13 murals running along a 400 metre wall, with work by 5 different artists.

I am producing 7 of the works, and the pictures above are work in progress images of a series I am calling Figurescapes. Broadly referencing the elements – though I have chosen Space rather than Air – these figures will be cut out and mounted to the wall. Two of my other 3 murals will be normal landscape ratio, and the final one an abstract pattern arrived at by cutting a large landscape into slices. To give a sense of scale, the figures shown are 3 metres tall.

The project is being sponsored by an imaginative developer, Citu, as part of their Little Kelham project. The brief they gave us was very loose, simply requiring that the murals paid heed to their brand values of sustainability, innovation and technology, and a commitment to tackling climate change through reduced carbon emissions. We have all approached this in different ways; the Figurescapes, and one of my landscape murals, will also highlight the importance of people to place. I aim to do this using people shaped empty spaces as well as the figurescapes to invite the viewer to place themselves in the environment.

This is a very exciting project, which will be unveiled on the weekend of the 28th/29th April 2018. I’ll post more teaser images as work progresses, next up is Water, and when that’s done I have 3m x 5m and a 3m x 7m murals to complete, which will reflect the change in the area from a decayed brownfield site to a living environment. Watch this space 🙂



I’m showing in London

It seems longer than a fortnight since we came back from Scotland, but that may be because I’ve been so very busy. Over the last two weeks I have started work on another huge painting, negotiated and completed a commission piece, and finished of a medium sized piece about the bombing of Syria, called Widescreen: Democracy in Action, which I’ll add to the gallery when I have time to photograph it. I’ve also posted out two prints, and put a stock of my prints in The Corner Gallery, and created my Christmas cards for the season. Mostly though, I’ve been concentrating on getting things sorted for the final event I shall be taking part in this year, and it’s one that’s got me quite excited 🙂

I’m showing in London 😀 Exhibit Here’s Artmaze exhibition at the Bargehouse, OXO Tower Wharf, near the Tate Modern, is a show featuring over 80 artists in 13 rooms spread across 3 floors of this icon South London riverside building. You can read more about the show here This will be the first time example of my work has been shown in London since I began painting again in 2009, and I’m really interested to see what reaction they get. I am taking the four paintings shown above, and will be in attendance for all 4 days of the show (and of course at the private view) so if any of you are around and fancy seeing my work in the real, it would be great to see you.

Happy festivities, whatever your point of view 🙂



My practice – part 2

Torn wallpaper 4

Torn wallpaper 4

Following on from my last blog, today I am showing the stages from mid-point to completion of The torn wallpaper of childhood. My general practice is to take a breather when I have the rough composition and perspective mapped out, in order to think about details and colour. I usually do this by photographing the work on iPad, and looking at it. Sometimes I experiment with colour and object placement using ArtRage as well. I find this process useful, as it stops me being over hasty and enables me to test ideas without compromising what I’ve already done with I’ll thought out detail.

So, after a considerable coat of staring, and some experimental play in ArtRage, I had a clear idea of where I wanted to go with this painting. Firstly, I wanted to balance the light, as the shopfronts in the mid right had started to look dark and heavy. I did this by introducing white and cadmium yellow, both providing a light source and accentuating the suggested figures on the pavement. The results of this are shown above.

Torn wallpaper 5

Torn wallpaper 5

The next step was to complete the upper left skyline. The London I grew up in still had a number of bombed hulks and part demolished buildings and factories. The left side upper skyline was detailed using Raw Umber to introduce these and so provide a mid ground for this side of the painting. The knife was used as a simple sketching tool for this part, with a very small blade being used to cut in bricks and windows.

Torn wallpaper 6

Torn wallpaper 6

With most of the main composition dealt with I was able to move on to resolving the detail. The ruined building was treated to a pink wallpaper, inspired partly by a reference from Viv Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog DooDah bands ‘Rawlinsons End’, which summed up my memories of 30’s interior design – “and when you half closed your eyes they formed Roses of great vulgarity”.

The mid left section was sharpened to suggest an internal wall, windows and curtains, and this firmed up the piano like shape in the near centre. This references the significance of music as a social activity to me, evoking memories of singing from the Joan Baez songbook and Songs of Work and Protest as a child whilst my mother played guitar and piano in our living room.

As ever, all the painting was done with a palette knife. The textured effect of crumbling concrete on the centre left above the window is done by allowing the white paint to semi-dry, so when specks of pigment are introduced they are almost forced into and over the plastic ground. This also works well as a technique for painting more natural landscapes, suggesting flora and rough rockscapes.

The final touches added four elements to the painting (the finished piece can be seen below). The blank rectangle on the mid left had the suggestion of greenery added, as I spent much of my childhood outdoors, playing in parks, scaling and running along the top of walls, or just hanging out on the green across the road. The back end of a lorry was suggested-  we lived on a busy road, and our landlord used to back his car into the space in front of and above our basement sitting room window – the smell of diesel has firmly buried itself in my memories. The three large perspective panes I coloured by thinly scraping a layer of paint across each with the edge of a large palette knife. Achieving an even, flat but translucent effect calls for a steady hand and small amounts of wet paint. The Red, Yellow and Blue are references to my emerging awareness and recognition of the importance of politics in the early 70s, when each of the mainstream parties seemed distinctly different. Finally I included myself, or at least a place for me to view the work, sitting at a table with a pint, looking back at my life whilst reading (I read compulsively, again a habit I developed as a child and one that certainly trained my imagination, creating worlds in my mind from the text).

This has been the wallpaper of my childhood. I hope you have enjoyed reading about both the process and the reasoning behind the construction of one of my paintings.

Many thanks for viewing. John 🙂

Torn wallpaper final




And a new year begins….

Clearing the way

Clearing the way

Well, it’s been a long winter, and it’s only halfway through. Most of it has been spent recovering from the cancer treatment, and I’m glad to say that I’m well on the way, though still very low in energy, and currently fairly floored by a cold of all things (generally shrug these off, but c’est la vie). After the enforced hiatus of the last 9 months, I am slowly picking up momentum. For this year I have new paintings in mind, or already in sketch form. I am trying to put a London show together, and will certainly have other exhibitions up here in Sheffield. I also have the possibility of a collaboration with a German artist, which is very exciting. However, all this is to come, and whilst it’s a couple of months since I last posted, things haven’t been entirely static.

Art wise it’s been a quiet but positive couple of months. I’ve picked up a commission which I’m excited about because the initial sketches have already encouraged some new ideas, and I’ve sold six prints so far. I have also sold ‘Clearing the way’ which has gone off to be a surprise birthday present 🙂 The painting was the second piece in an exploration into Constructivist imagery using paint (the first was Structural elements 1, which can be seen on the gallery page). Both are inspired by the story of Sheffield and its shift from its industrial past. Whilst it’s always a bit of a wrench to say goodbye to a painting, all of these sales have been very welcome, and not simply because of the money.

Of course, I need sales in order to be able to continue as a full time artist, but they mean so much more. Naturally, I enjoy and get a frisson of warmth from the likes an image gets through social media, the number of hits individual images get in online galleries, and the comments I get at exhibitions. Somebody buying a work is saying something more. They are not saying they believe in me as a viable investment – I don’t exist at that level. What they are saying, to me, is that the piece has captured, entranced, intrigued or stimulated them enough to want to have it in their life. A sale means that the world I have depicted is one that the buyer wants to be able to go into, to explore, visit or regard again and again. I know this because this is what I am told, and also because they want to know the story behind, or the intent of, the painting.

For me, painting is a form of communication. It is my way of saying that which I sometimes struggle to express using hundreds or even thousands of words. Of course, each person who buys one of my paintings or prints will also have their own interpretation, just as valid as my intent. That the work has inspired this is equally gratifying. To me, the sales I make affirm the reasons why I paint, they tell me that I am being heard, and understood. For this I thank them, deeply 🙂

If you are interested in buying one of my paintings, you can find details of the size and price by clicking on the thumbnail images on the gallery page. For prints visit the dedicated page for details. I can ship worldwide, and p&p is extra. Simply contact me using the contact form, for a quote. Thankyou for reading, and I hope your 2015 has also started, and will continue, positively 🙂




Small horizons

Small horizons

Small horizons

It’s been a good week, managed to get to the studio on Tuesday and Thursday, and my daughter popping over on Wednesday was definitely a boost 🙂  The effect of the chemo treatment I’m undergoing means that visits to the studio are all too brief and infrequent, which is a shame, as I’m really excited by the pieces I’m working on at the moment, and there’s only so much sketching I can do before I need to try things out on canvas. I did manage to get to the studio again today (Thursday) and make significant progress on the next piece I’m doing. Hopefully I can be back on Monday before going into hospital for the next 120 hours connected to a drip.Consequently, whilst It’s interesting doing this blog as an exploration of the progress of my work over the last two years, I am very glad to have something new to show you.

Small horizons is inspired by a piece I never finished, and by a song. The song is ‘A solitary life’ by Richard Thompson’, the painting was called ‘Restricted view’. In their own way, both song and painting speak of the narrowness of Urban/Surburban living, but for me Small horizons also speaks of the blindness brought on by a world where our understanding of what is happening is controlled and shaped by the media we consume. Soundbites seem to have replaced debate and exploration, and the complex issues we are facing are delivered, prepackaged, to our door. This is nothing new of course, and it is arguable that we have more opportunity or at least facility to find out for ourselves in the technological age than we ever have had. Sadly, facility does not always translate into actuality, and particularly not when our energies are spent just trying to keep our heads above water, as is the reality for so many people.  Interestingly, Loz (my daughter) looked at Small Horizons and recognised the compositional elements that I used on a painting 26 years ago in it, I also see the references to the linear abstractions I was doing in the early nineties. -there’s progress for you 🙂




Looking for work in Never-Neverland

Looking for work in Never-Neverland

Looking for work in Never-Neverland

You hear a lot about unemployment these days, or more accurately, you hear a lot about the unemployed. Much political capital is being made by all of the major UK political parties about curtailing the luxurious lifestyles of that vast group of adults who are un or under-employed. A long running campaign has exhorted the populace to deride and dehumanise the workless, and programmes such as Benefits Street have added to the general noise, presenting a picture of the workless as feckless layabouts; the general consensus appears to be that they should all just go and get a job.

If only life was so simple. The words ‘get a job’ spill so glibly from the mouths of politicians and media commentators that anyone would believe that gaining employment must be easy. After all, a million new private sector jobs are claimed to have been created by the coalition between 2010 and 2012 – surely there’s work for everyone? At any one time in the labour market there’s generally around half a million jobs being advertised, why don’t the scroungers apply for them? Against a background noise like this, it’s no surprise that attitudes to the workless have drifted back into blaming the individual, with a reemergence of the deserving and undeserving poor that characterised Regency and Victorian approaches to poverty.

The truth is far from as convenient and so not mentioned by the likes of Ian Duncan Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) or the media. The truth is that individuals are not as responsible for their worklessness as commentators would like you to believe. The headline figures for the UK labour market show that between 2010 and 2012 the number of jobs in the UK economy had grown by 442,000, the ‘million private sector jobs’ which turned out to be 874,000 offset by declining public sector employment. A typical vacancy analysis shows that between December and February 2014 there were 588,000 vacancies in the labour market, which led the Office of National Statistics to claim a ratio of 4 unemployed people for every job. Ostensibly these figures back up the reactionary arguments and are often used to justify the war on the unemployed. Looking at them in detail suggests a different conclusion.

A staggering 4.9 million working age people have no employment , and 2.37 million of these receive Jobseekers Allowance, the state benefit that is contingent upon actively seeking work. A further 1.46 million UK workers are recorded as underemployed, meaning that they work part-time but wish to work full time. This means that at any one time there could be at least 3.83 million people chasing these 588,000 jobs, giving a ratio of one job for every 6.15 people. Of course, most of these jobs are not ‘new’ jobs, they are existing jobs being refilled because the person doing them has taken another job. These jobs are most likely to go to people in work. When I worked in employment and economic regeneration, we estimated that 90% of all vacancies would go to someone in work, and statistical analysis of vacancies versus falls in JSA seemed to bear this out. This would suggest that 60 people could be chasing every vacancy, and the ten percent without recent work history or proven work skills will be at a serious disadvantage here. Certainly the pictures of thousands of people  queuing for 7 Jobs at a new Aldi store in the midlands recently backs this less positive analysis. It also seems reasonable to assume that even if all the jobs in the labour market went to unemployed people, the number of unemployed people would not reduce, but the individuals comprising the unemployed population would change. It’s called displacement – if an unemployed person takes a job that an employed person has vacated, that employed person is then unemployed. The truth is that there are not enough jobs, and blaming the unemployed for being out of work is equivalent to blaming fur seals for being clubbed.

Looking for work in Never-Neverland is my most recent painting, and it adds to the body of my work focusing on the human cost of our changing society. It draws on the fact that not only is the labour market oversupplied but has also changed massively. In the last ten years, vacancies in blue collar jobs have dropped by as much as a third, reflecting the changing nature of work. Growth industries are Hotel & Catering, Real Estate activities, and Professional, Scientific & Technical activities. Recruitment patterns have also changed, with a growth in the use of tests to pre-screen applicants, and online applications. Vacancies are now often handled by agencies, and applying for these means filling in an online form, and sending it of into the datasphere with no idea whether anybody at the other end is looking at it, and new contracting (zero hours, flexible working practices etc) have made it harder to work out what earnings are likely from any given vacancy.  The bewilderment resulting, particularly for older workers entering the labour market for the first time due to redundancy, can be immense, both as a result of the changed labour market, and the fact that the real picture of the labour market is so far removed from the (non)portrayal used by the politico-media fueled frenzy of hate against the workless. Please dwell on this next time somebody says ‘get a job’.

Exhibitions end, and a new venture

Teetering on the edge

Teetering on the edge

And so another exhibition is over, and I turn again to the future, to more painting, another Open Studio event, and my next exhibition. The Northwich iteration of ‘We are not in the least afraid of ruins’ was, I feel, a success, despite the lack of sales, and relatively small number of visitors to the gallery. Exhibiting in Northwich is unlikely to make any artist rich or famous. It is a small town with a declining industrial base,  defined by the Arts Council as an ‘area of low cultural engagement, and the local paper didn’t list my exhibition, probably because I was not a local artist.  I do not mean to be dismissive, Northwich also appears regularly in the Sunday Times list of best places to live in the country, and has a rich musical and sporting history. It may be wondered why I chose such an area for an exhibition, but in fact the characteristics of the town meant that it was perfect for my first venture outside of Sheffield.

My aim in exhibiting in Northwich was to expose the work to a different, and perhaps more difficult audience, to see whether it succeeded in engaging them. In this respect the exhibition was an unqualified success, and the response to my work both genuine and gratifying. Also gratifying was the fact that visiting the exhibition inspired one local councillor to start painting again himself. The gallery was superb, and it was interesting to see my work in this very different environment from gage. One artist, who has seen my work (indeed, we have exhibited together) in Sheffield commented on how professional it looked in the setting, it’s impressive the difference proper lighting can make to an evening opening. Whilst I had no sales, I did have interest, and have left three paintings behind to go in the Cheshire Art Fair, which runs through April. I also met some new people, including some very talented artists, and overall am glad that I made the decision to take my work out touring this year.

The next couple of months will be busy, and I hope to have completed the triptych based on the three colours theme that I have been working on since August 2012. Coming up is the annual Sheffield Open Studio’s event, which will run for five days in early May, and which I always enjoy, followed by another solo exhibition, in Congleton, Cheshire, at the end of May, for which I will have new works, and possibly a slight shift in thematic emphasis.

Before either of these however, I am pleased to be one of the launch artists for a new and interesting take on the online art gallery. This will become active from April 5th, and the owner sought me out to invite me to join in because of the nature and political emphasis of my work, which was very refreshing. Through participation in the site, my work will be available in print as well as original form, and I am currently selecting 10 works that I will offer through the gallery. There’s a good and interesting mix of artists available through SEAT 214 (facebook page) so take a look, and sign up for news about the artists, special offers etc.

I leave you with  the featured painting for this blog. Called Teetering on the edge, I completed it the Wednesday before the Northwich exhibition, as a comment on the apparent fragility of our global society. At no point have the inequalities been more evident, and the bush wars between competing oligarchies as they grab to control the worlds resources threaten to return us to barbarism.  Indeed, NASA confirmed this pessimistic view a few days ago, and I urge you all to take stock and ask if the headlong rush for the scraps offered by 21st century capitalism is really a justification for the misery and inequality necessarily contingent upon the insane way we are allowing our world to be run.