Reflections on a memory

Reflections on a memory

Reflections on a memory

Last year I stumbled across the old Guest & Chrimes steelworks in Rotherham, part demolished in a wasteland behind the football ground. The site has inspired a number of paintings, and the first of these is Reflections on a memory. The painting is intended as a comment on the sense of loss and isolation that permeates Britains deindustrialising North and Midlands. The works arising from my visit to the site will form part of my next exhibition, Pathways, which will open in Gage Gallery in July.



Back on the street

Battle of the giants final40pc

Battle of the Giants

The requistioning of horses during the 1914-18 war gave Sheffield’s industry a considerable problem. The horse was still the main means of transport, including that of moving goods and industrial plant around the City. One company came up with an unusual solution to the problem; Thomas Wards, a scrap dealer, leased an elephant from a menagerie in the city, and used her to help transport metal scrap and machinery around Sheffield, a vital contribution to the war effort. The elephant, Lizzie, was reputed to have overturned a steam traction engine, and I have depicted the aftermath of this, and placed the event in front of the Sheffield Tramways power station that is now the site of Kelham Island Industrial Museum.

In the 1980’s I worked for a community murals organisation in North London. We created murals in schools, hospitals, and a railway station, great fun and I learnt a lot. Now, 29 years later and I’m doing the same again, and loving it. I had been wondering for a while how my current, industrial inspired style would work as street art, and have  been given the opportunity to find out thanks to an exciting initiative generated by the Kelham Island Community Alliance (KICA Facebook page).

The Kelham Island Arts & Cultural Heritage Trail started as an anti-graffiti measure, with a particular focus on telecommunications cabinets (those green steel boxs that have become such a feature of street furniture). It was recognised that taggers were less likely to spray over street art, and so a project to generate murals on all 27 of the cabinets was born.

The brief calls for artworks reflecting the cultural, environmental, industrial and social history of the area, and the individual boxes are sponsored by local businesses. The cabinet I painted is sponsored by a company called The Suit Works, who have a very positive approach to tackling unemployment (a subject very dear to me) – check them out Suitworks website

The Suitworks are a social enterprise, and were able to sponsor the cabinet due to support from Jerry Ibberson, whose family were Sheffield Cutlers, at the Violin Works in the centre of town Brief history of Ibbersons.  In recognition of this, I have include a Violin in the painting, propped up in the bottom R/H corner.



Being a 3d work, I had and interesting time coming up with a cohesive design. One side panel references the River Don, the power source that enabled the growth of Sheffields industry.

BOTG Tram end

Sheffield Tram on Mowbray Street

The other shows a Sheffield Tram coming down Mowbray Street, appropriate given that the central panel shows the power station that generated electricity for the tramways network in the city.

So far three cabinets have been completed, and you can see them below. From left to right the works are by me, Simon Wigglesworth Baker, and James Croft. I also have a commission for a 4th, and we expect more to be completed over the next year. An exciting initative and one that I’m proud to be part of. I would like to thank KICA for the opportunity, and once again the Suitworks and Jerry for making it possible.

The first 3

My, Simon’s and James’s cabinets brightening up Ball Street.







The Wasteland of Your Desires


I viewed the news that the Republicans were threatening to withdraw from the Paris Accord  and dismantle or scrap the Environmental Protection Agency with some alarm, and more than a hint of concern about what this might mean. Of course, I understand these are moted actions, and yet to become real, and I understand that the people behind the moves are long time climate change deniers, a fact that I somewhat bizzarely find comforting.

Comforting may seem a strange word here. I chose it carefully, because even climate change deniers in the White House, bad though that undoubtably is, can be fought against. The alternative that reared its ugly  face in my mind when I heard the news was that the battle, even the war, has indeed been lost. That the environmental destruction we have wrought has meant that we have reached the tipping point, have squandered our ability to ameliorate our impact on our planet and are now gearing up to fight the resource wars that will surely be one result of the impact of global warming.

Now, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I think there is enough that is evidently and indentifiably wrong with the way we coexist in the public and verifiable domain, and feel no need to go chasing after alternative facts. However, I do struggle to understand the existence of climate change deniers. There are vested interests in operation, but I doubt that an emerging technology would have enough backing to mean that 97% of scientists would support it’s attack on the fossil fuel industry, a long established and extremely powerful lobby. I do find it easier to believe that there is a recognition of how fragile the consumption/sustainability balance is, and a strategic difference of opinion about how to respond. It is my fear that the new administration have decided that global warming is a fait accompli, and are thus responding to it, giving up efforts to ameliorate against it, that inspired The Wasteland of Your Desires , another work in what I am starting to consider my Pathway Series.

Food for thought, but of course it is worth bearing in mind that conspiracy requires capacity. Far more likely that the cynical self-interest of Populism will lead to the same end, unwittingly. Still the same end though, these are worrying times.






New Series



The Abbeydale Exhibition is up until December 31st, I have 5 paintings in a show in Rotherham, and an affordable art fair and exhibition to curate at the end of November, and a commission. What better time to start work on a new series 🙂

Unloading – Murmansk is the first in a group of paintings that will be drawn from the experiences of ordinary men and women serving to support the Arctic Convoys of 1941 – 1944. The paintings will be exhibited in July next year, to commemerate the 75th anniversary of convoy PQ17. This series continues the focus on untold history that is an emerging theme within my work. We know much about the Royal Navy’s role in the convoys, less about the civilians who played the most essential role in an action that arguably won the war. Thankyou for looking and I hope the painting engages you 🙂

Abbeydale Reimaged

Abbeydale exhibition

My next exhibition, and my first solo show since May 2014, goes up on the 24th October. Featuring 14 paintings done on site over my 50 day residency at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in Sheffield, the show is the culmination of what has been one of the most interesting periods of my artistic career.

The aim of the residency was to create a series of works that evoked a sense of what it was like to work at the site during it’s time as a water powered scythe and steel works. Grist to the mill for an industrial artist, you might think, but this was far removed from my experience as a studio based artist, working on my own away from the elements and ever changing light of outdoor practice, and away from the gaze of other visitors to the site. All of these factors presented a challenge, but none so great as the stylistic approach I was to adopt.

My usual approach tends to the semi-abstract. I like to focus on light, energy and mood – representation has never been that important to me, and I have tended to avoid anything more than the suggestion of figure. However, in responding to the site,  I was drawn to the solidity of its architecture and the textures of the materials it was built from. To me these demanded a more representational approach, and my aim was to add the atmosphere of industry, and of course the people.

It soon became apparent that I would not achieve my goal without careful inclusion of figurative elements, and in keeping with the style I adopted for portaying the site, these would also have to be more than mere suggestion. I was fortunate in that the Hamlet still has an industrial use, with both Blacksmiths and a Grinder using the space. Observing Peter grinding swords for the Royal Navy was incredibly useful in enabling me to create the figurative elements of the works I have produced.

I am very happy with the works I have completed through the residency, and grateful for the support that staff and volunteers working for Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust have given me during this period. I am also incredibly grateful to the many members of the public who engaged with me during my time on site, for the interest they expressed in the work, and the encouragement they provided. It is nerve-racking to be engaged in the creative process under the gaze of the public, and my task was made so much easier by the positive responses I recieved.

I hope you can make it to the exhibition, which should be up for a good few months. For those who can’t, I’ll put up photos of the work on my facebook artists page. I’ll be moving on to my next project once the works are hung, but I will miss my time at the Hamlet, and would urge any artist to try a similar approach, you’ll learn a lot and have a lot of fun doing so 🙂

Thanks. John W


Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet


Work in progress – untitled


As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m currently doing a residency project. This is at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet in Sheffield, a working industrial museum that was donated to the city in 1935, and opened as a museum in 1970. I am there 2 to 3 times a week for most weeks until October 9th, and during my stay aim to produce 14 paintings. The works will mainly attempt to show the site as it was in its working heyday, engaging viewers with the working conditions prevelant at the height of the industrial revolution, though some will be drawn from the life of the Hamlet as a museum, and one or two will be my response to the various artefacts scattered around the place.

The plan is to hold an exhibition of the works during November/December 2016, subject to being able to mount the works securely without damaging the fabric of the buildings.

The site is a fascinating place to work, and I have been greatly enjoying working outdoors in the gaze of the visiting public. Capturing the place has been a challenge in many ways; I’ve been engrossed in historical research to establish missing architectural details and get a sense of the lives of the workers, and as an artist I’ve had to move away from my usual style and into the realms of realism – of which more in the next blog 🙂 The response from the public has been gratifyingly positive, with many visitors taking an interest in what I’m doing, and admiring the result.

One of the exhibits is the Jessops Tilt Hammer, which was donated to the site in 1939. This behemoth sits at the entrance to the Hamlet, and is a complex mix of curves, lines and shapes formed in iron and wood, and painted black. The work in progress is the result of 3 days of sketching in pencil, charcoal and paint as I grappled with trying to capture the essence of the hammer. This is the first attempt I have had at depicting it on canvas, and I have chosen the colours of rust and the chaos of steam to express the shapes and vitality of this truly impressive relic of Victorian industrial technology. I hope you like the results so far 🙂