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Liam Spencer at home

Confidential heads for the hills to find out what makes a northern artist tick

Published on April 2nd 2008.

Liam Spencer at home

Liam Spencer has been well-known in Manchester since selling out a show in the Lowry during its opening few months in 2000. His specialises in the vivid portrayals of the urban landscape, notable for their interpretation of light and colour. The city turns tropical under Spencer’s brush, bringing out a beauty which often eludes locals as they go about their daily rituals.

This year he’s become even more familiar. Spencer has done three pieces of work for the UEFA Cup Final at the City of Manchester Stadium on Wednesday 14 May. These will be used on materials ranging from stadium decoration and posters to websites and match tickets. They have already started appearing around the city.

But what of the man himself? Where did it all begin, how does he relax and what inspires him?

We journeyed north to meet Spencer at his studio in Rossendale - in the splendid setting of Pennine Lancashire, not far from Spencer’s roots in Burnley.

You still like a bit of footwork as well as brushwork, don’t you?
“I play football, even though I’m probably too old [he was born in 1964]. Burnley’s a real football town. I spent all of my childhood either kicking a ball around or messing about in the fields and rivers. Playing football and watching football, it’s just something that I’ve always done. I support Burnley…it’s kind of mandatory. I sometimes say it’s on my birth certificate, stamped ‘Burnley fan’.”

And then there’s fishing too?
“I got involved in fishing when I was young. Me, my brother and my mates used to go out, whether it was catching fish with your hands in a little stream, or fishing in the canals and mill lodges. There are wonderful places in the Trough of Bowland and the Ribble Valley not far from where I live, but where I fish isn’t quite like that. It’s really close to Burnley: in a river that twenty years ago would have been dead and polluted. Now it’s a haven for wildlife and fish. To think that you can be fly-fishing for trout in a stream with that history really appeals to me.”

It was up here where you had your first exhibition as well, wasn’t it, although Manchester people may remember the Lowry exhibition more?
“The first exhibition of any significance I had was at Townley Hall in Burnley. In fact, that was probably the first place I was ever exposed to paintings. It was free to get in and being exposed to a bit of culture is really important. There are a lot of artists within a couple of miles radius of us and it’s nice to have that kind of activity in this part of Lancashire. After all, Manchester’s not a million miles away. That’s important for me because there are galleries I work with in the city and my wife still works there. Being here though, you feel like you can pinch a bit of both worlds, you’re surrounded by stunning landscape but you’re still very easily connected to the city.”

Yet, the landscapes you are surrounded by don’t really make it into the pictures, do they?
“I do really enjoy being in this landscape but it’s not necessarily reflected in my paintings. I like very ordinary subjects. It’s often to do with light and that can happen anywhere. There are some sheds on the way up to our house. They’re derelict industrial buildings but I’ve done some paintings of them. In a way, I’m more likely to paint that than to go up to the hilltops and paint a stunning landscape. I suppose I always work from what I know. I have had projects in other places, painting in New York and Istanbul for example, but the mainstay of my work is always the places that are on my doorstep. For a long time, that was Manchester, but now it’s a combination of Manchester and Pennine Lancashire. From my point of view, it’s important to work with what you know well and what you understand.”

This appreciation of how the prosaic can be transformed in an instant, is central to what you do, isn’t it?
“It’s the subject matter of my paintings, it’s the point of them. I like finding beautiful things in unexpected places, simple as that.”

And that’s the key to Liam Spencer. His work is full of broad brush strokes combined with an almost Impressionist vision. His work makes the humble luminous and attaches significance to the forgotten or overlooked parts of our towns and cities. And like the object of much of his work he’s a humble man happy in the space he loves best, his studio, amongst the hills of Pennine Lancashire.

You could win a signed limited edition print by Liam Spencer. To find out how click here.

For more information on Liam Spencer visit www.liamspencer.co.uk

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