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Vivid Manchester: Michael J Ashcroft Interviewed

Jonathan Schofield chats to an artist who loves MCR ahead of Rosso show

Published on September 19th 2014.

Vivid Manchester: Michael J Ashcroft Interviewed


MICHAEL J Ashcroft is coming to Rosso Restaurant for his first solo show.

What you get with Michael J Ashcroft is the very essence of accessible art, open, honest, user-friendly. The works can be taken as they are, or you can look deeper and let your imagination create stories. 

The West Lancashire lad is in love with Manchester and to mark that love has produced in the last nine months thirty oil paintings for display in the city centre restaurant.

Michael J Ashcroft wielding oilMichael J Ashcroft wielding oil

“Thirty?” I say. “Michael how frequently do you paint? That’s prolific.”

“I paint every day, I can’t help myself,” he says. “I paint from early morning until late at night, losing myself in the work. I love everything about it, the whole process and seeing where it’ll end up.”

Enthusiastic man our Mr Ashcroft, despite the fraught path to becoming a full-time artist.

He’d always loved capturing the world though paint but his work after college as an engineer got in the way. It was the horror of terrible illness that shifted his priorities back to art.


One Night in Rosso

“It was 1998 and I was 29 and I had a brain tumour. I had to come into Manchester for my treatment. Faced with what could be a fatal condition other worries dropped away and I realised I wanted to paint, simply paint. Life was too fragile to not do what I wanted.

“At the same time Manchester has always inspired me, even as a kid and teenager, going to ‘the big city’. When I was ill I would wander the city, visit the galleries and in the end I began to associate Manchester with feeling secure, almost homely – I know that might seem odd.

Corporation Street, Manchester

Corporation Street, Manchester - part of the Rosso exhibition

“I grew to love it most early in the morning or late at night when it’s sleeping or when it’s shifting from work mode to more of a leisure mode. I love the movement and play of light, human and natural as well. I’m fascinated by neon for example. It stops and makes me stare wondering how I can catch it best.”

“Natural light can enthral me in the same way, twilight in particular. It is a magical time and wonderfully transitory, you have an hour to grab it.”

“Explain a little more about how you set out on a painting,” I say.

“Back when I started I did abstract work in acrylic, but I thought that to be serious artist you have to do oils, but I wanted to keep some of that abstract influence. So I combine representational and realist work with abstract work in oils and take advantage of the light in the sky mixed with the light from neon.”

And inspirations for his work?

“One of my inspirations is Edward Hopper. I've always liked his Nighthawks. I’d always wanted to do a similar one, capturing a quiet moment in a busy city. Strangely I found it one evening in Pret-a-Manger on Cross Street. The work is called Sleepless Nights.”

Edward Hopper's famous Night Hawks from 1942

Edward Hopper's famous Nighthawks from 1942

A sandwich shop and downtown diner in a big US city might seem disparate, especially given Pret’s early closing hours hardly make for a sleepless night, but there is a Hopper-esque palette to Ashcroft’s work. And something of Liam Spencer, the contemporary north western artist, as well.

“We’re friends,” says Ashcroft. “We like the same subjects I suppose and also ale and pubs.”

Sleepless nights

Sleepless nights

What you get with Michael J Ashcroft is the very essence of accessible art, open, honest, user-friendly. The works can be taken as they are, lovely representations of Manchester as it is today. Or you can look deeper and let your imagination create stories of Ashcroft’s city suffused as it is in colour with the people moving through it.

“When I started painting I never dreamt of selling any of the work. I did it for myself. The reaction is humbling and pleasing,” says Ashcroft. “The Rosso show is mostly night scenes. It should work for people dining in the restaurant. I hope it gives them something to talk about.”

Michael J Ashcroft’s Reflections of Manchester exhibition is at Rosso Restaurant and Bar, King Street, from October. The show is being hosted by Rosso and organised through Colourfield Gallery in Poynton which specialises in Northern artists. Prices start around £800. 

More information about the exhibiton will be announced shortly.

Atlas Bar - part of the Rosso exhibition


Atlas Bar - part of the Rosso exhibition

Rise Above, Beetham Tower 10 X 10Rise Above, Beetham Tower 

Old Trafford 35 X 25Old Trafford 

A Pub On Every Corner, Deansgate Pub, Manchester 10 X 8A Pub On Every Corner, Deansgate Pub, Manchester

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