Nightlife

Nightlife

Nightlife

The area my studio is located in, Kelham Island, is a rapidly changing place. When I got to Sheffield in 1990 it was a decayed landscape; half derelict factories, some still housing light industry, set among the wasteland of it’s industrial past. Nobody lived there, after sundown it’s main visitors were the kerb crawlers and their targets, and the drug addicts seeking a space were they could be undisturbed and (relatively) safe. It wasn’t radically different in 2012 when I joined Kelham Island Arts Collective. There were some new build flats, a trendy cafe and a posh restaurant had replaced one of the greasy spoons, but it was still possible to take low rent spaces in one of the many crumbling factories, an ideal (and perhaps typical) location for artists.

Fast forward 7 years and though the surface looks the same behind the facades much has changed. A plethora of housing development has meant a large resident population, and there is a strong sense of community emerging. Much of the development pays at least lip service to the visual identity of the area’s history. New businesses emerging these days are micro-breweries, craft bakeries and the like, and sympathetic zoning by the local authority means less pressure for change of use, protecting the existing light industries. Day and night the Island is much more vibrant, pubs, cafes, restaurants and wine bars abound, and post sundown the visitors much more wholesome (if no quieter). Indeed, the area has recently won an Urban Renewal Award. Let’s be clear – this is not gentrification. No one lived here,  there has been no clearance, either of industry or residents. As an artist it’s a great place to be, and in painting Nightlife, I pay homage to the intelligent redevelopment of brownfield sites.

 

 

 

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It’s been a while

Against the tide

Against the tide

Shocked that I haven’t posted anything since July last year, or updated the Artworks section to include all of my last 15 months output. Take it as a consequence of the the realities of life as a self-representing artist. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are my main media platforms, and attractive to me because they seem to require less consideration (yes, I agonise over every word, and knowing that it’s unnecessary doesn’t help 🙂 ). Anyway, I will update this site over the next month, and for now here’s a painting I completed last July.

Against the tide fits into a new series I’ve been working on, Pathways, and will feature in my next exhibition, in July. The painting is a shout out to anyone who feels disconnected in an everchanging, bewildering and often hostile world. You are not alone.

The road we walked before

The road we walked before

The road we walked before

The world I grew up in was very different. Pre Reagan and Thatcher, shocked by the extremities of the 1939-45 conflict, and still remembering prewar economic depression, it seemed there was a consensus about the social duty of the State. Working, health and housing conditions were on the rise, as was disposable income. It was a time of great struggles, for race, sexuality and gender equality, and it seemed that there were great victories. Facsism had not been defeated but its greatest influence was on young football hooligans looking for a fight. Overseas travel had become much more affordable, and the world seemed to be opening out.

Fast forward to now, and all that I believed was happening seemed a falsehood. How short our memories, that we have allowed ourselves to turn against each other,  that we have allowed our democracies to be highjacked by naked self-interest, and that once more we see the return to the idealogy of the bully. How thin the facade of our humanity that to be Black, Gay, Lesbian, Trans, Disabled or simply a woman places us under threat once more, that to be from a different country invites suspicion and hostility. Do we really walk blindly through the world once more ignoring that which does not directly affect us, condoning hate by our lack of censure, content to benefit from the discomfort of others, indeed to celebrate that discomfort? Were we pretending all along?

At a recent party, I suggested that we could learn a lot about now by looking at our past. The notion was scathingly dismissed, after all history is manipulated by the victorious and hence unreliable. True, but while memories may be short, our understanding of the rise of totalitarianism in the 1920s and 30s has yet to be overwritten.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

( Martin Niemoller 1946)

 

John Wilkinson – July 2018

KurbArt

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 🙂

 

Playing with colour

Mythago Wood (absorbing) 36pc

Mythago Wood (absorbing)

I have always been entranced by myth, and take great delight in wandering through the remnants of the vast woodlands that used to blanket the British Isles. I am also an avid reader, and occasionally am inspired to respond to works that I find particularly powerful. So last week I decided to tackle a subject that has long engaged me, and play with a colour balance that I use less often. I also thought I’d work on a different surface, having become interested in the challenge of using palette knives on an unyielding base when painting the steel utility cabinets in July and November.

Mythago Wood is a novel by Robert Holdstock, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark fantasy. In it, the woodland is timeless, measureless and jealous of its boundaries. Here I have shown it in it’s full power, fighting back against human encroachment, and ultimately absorbing our endeveaours – as indeed is inevitable, surely whilst we are capable of inflicting grievous damage, we will destroy the conditions of our own sustainability well before we destroy all life?

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.

Waterwheel

Waterwheel

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busy August

Skye from Gairloch

Skye from Gairloch

Only half way through the month and I have so much on. Got back from the Scottich Highlands at the end of July, after a week of fanastic sunshine while it rained in most of the rest of the UK 🙂 This painting of the North-Eastern coast of Skye was done from a plein air paint sketch I did standing outside our tent at Big Sands in Gairloch, a lovely place, and one we hope to move too.

Sadly, I got back to discover that we have lost our gallery, Gage. This has been an integral part of our studio collective for 5 years, but now the landlord has taken it back for redevelopment – the harsh reality of cheap rents in an emerging area 😦  I am searching for a suitable replacement for the gallery, and attached arts education space, but there is a shortage of run down industrial property in the area, so we may have to move.

My recent show, For Those In Peril.. was a success, and I am looking for another venue to house it. I’ve got some interest, so I hope to be able to share some more good news with you soon (fingers crossed). Meanwhile I’m busy producing work to fill my stall in our marquee at Sheffeld’s Art In The Gardens event. This takes place over the 1st – 3rd September in the Botanical Gardens, and is always a fun event. This year I will be doing a series of landscapes, and Skye from Gairloch is the first of these. In addition I’m organising a pop-up art show to help promote a local club, to coincide with Nether Edge Farmers Market on the 17th September, and then helping put together the KIAC stall at Kelham Island Industrial Museums ‘Down By The River’ event on September 24th. And I think August is busy 🙂