Our major exhibition for Autumn opens with a preview evening on Thursday, 18 October and continues for eight weeks.
In this first guest blog, the artist Ian Pearsall tells us about his inspiration, process and journey to becoming a professional artist:
“It is spoken in the family story that my Granny as a young woman in the early years of the twentieth century along with her brother Harry and two other sisters, walked the two-hundred and forty three miles from the tiny Scottish coastal town of Ayr to Stoke-On-Trent, my home town. The finer details of this great trek have been eroded by time and by the passing of all whom who undertook it even if the memory of them as individuals has not diminished. Her husband, my Grandad hailed from the Black Country where our name is more prolific and a significant piece of the family story begins here in Stoke.
I was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia in Central Africa. My father, the son of the aforementioned union travelled his own journey – it must be in the blood! The war for independence that created Zimbabwe was not my father’s war, and thus we (I was a one-year old on this journey!) drove the three-hundred and sixty-five miles to Blantyre, in Malawi where we lived and I grew up and was schooled for the next sixteen years. In 1984 I made my own journey – here to the UK.
One of the first things I did was to visit Blantyre in Scotland; birthplace of Dr. David Livingstone – the man who put the place where I’d spent the early years of my life on the map. It is with a huge sense of adventure that I now bring my work here to Edinburgh by the kind invitation of Linsay Given Black of Art & Craft Collective, and I am truly delighted and honoured for yet another great connection with Scotland…
“…long fields of ironstone glowed with all the colours of decadence. The entire
landscape was illuminated and transformed by these unique pyrotechnics of labour
atoning for it’s grime, and dull, weird sounds, as of the breathings and sighing’s of
giant nocturnal creatures filled the enchanted air.”
Arnold Bennett: Anna of the five towns
Stoke-On-Trent is the epicentre of my creative world – I saw the light here after a good few years in the creative darkness. On a winter morning several years ago whilst walking my faithful Bassett Hound around the largest of the city’s lakes, a bottle-shaped chimney rose proudly up through the mist and stood cold and dormant against the backdrop of a winter sky. I drifted over to it at the speed of lazy dog until stood up against it, and then marveled at it’s architectural significance – a most considered brickwork with a wonderfully ornate patterning of the flute.
Why ‘STEEL’ ?
Following my successful ‘Black Streets’ Exhibition at Trent Art Gallery through which I painted my first passion; the people’s architecture – the terraced houses of the great working people (in any British city) I finally got around to following a family story, that of my great-great granddad William Asher who started work at The Shelton Bar Iron Company aged just sixteen back in 1859.
Shelton Bar is a huge story in the history of Stoke-On-Trent employing over ten thousand people at it’s peak. It was the reason why the city was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, and following it’s closure the land was used for the second great Garden Festival in the UK to reclaim the land it stood on. I’ve taken a tangent with this ‘STEEL’ Series – I wanted to free up my style after working on the ‘Black Streets’ – I wanted to convey the excitement; drama, light, smoke, sparks and fire and all that working with STEEL implies. I took a train ride to Saltburn a couple of years ago and happened to pass through Redcar alive with activity … my camera never stopped all the way through! Here is that experience …
I was born in Rhodesia; my Dad leaving the smoke of The Potteries behind aged eighteen to pursue a career with Customs & Excise (choice being Rhodesia or the Falkland Islands..) in the heady days of UDI under Ian Smith. He came home on holiday after some five years and married his childhood sweetheart from two streets away in Birches Head .. and went back under the banner headline in the ‘City News’ – ‘Man from Africa marries local girl!!’
We holidayed here in summertime every three years when my parents came back to see their folks.. I was raised on oatcakes just like the next man, even if they were hand-made by my Mum under the African sun. I think I must have been the only kid in Africa wearing a Seventies Stoke City shirt aspiring to Jimmy Greenhoff on those sun baked playing fields. I lived in Malawi right up to the age of 16 when I’d long realised I was lousy at football; squash was my game; art and music my reason for wanting to come here – first gig in the UK was AC/DC headlining Donnington in ‘84.. against the choice of choosing an agricultural career over there – No Brainer – but what to do here?
An inclination to Art..
I gravitated to art in school – I was a daydreamer with my head in all the comics I could get my hands on over in Africa, and I loved reading History. Top of my ambitions was to design an album cover that made it big time! Until my school art teacher told my folks that everything we see around us that we use in our every day lives had to be conceived, designed, manufactured and marketed; art looked like a career offering no more than just painting pretty pictures, and of concern.
A careers interview at Trinity House in Hanley pointed me to Newcastle-Under-Lyme college and to ‘A’ level art, and onto a B/Tec Design course to follow. I loved it at NULC!! . The lecturers were passionate to the core, and that ignited me; my portfolio shaped up to bounce through the doors of Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham. I studied Furniture & Product Design on a Degree sandwich course intended to place us directly into industry. I loved the projects which were challenging but the loose structuring of the course tested my discipline! I was placed into the drawing office of an engineering firm which manufactured robotic measuring instruments which was as dull as fuck. I wanted to draw, I wanted to experiment creatively…
I basically got my degree producing a fine art degree show where there should have been rigid technical drawings. I love to generate ideas, I love a loose visceral style… I want to produce excitement in my artworks. There are no hidden agendas in my work and there are no great lengths of writing you have to read to get it!
People look at my work and say that’s me in that picture, in the place I grew up in’ or ‘I remember when it was like that’ – I draw on my original photographs of this unchanged city and there is still plenty of it, reference it’s context from old maps and relish in descriptions of life from people who were in the thick of the industries, family stories.
I don’t produce work to meet a market demographic that sells, I paint and draw what I’m interested in and people come to it – when people get sick of history, and tired of Stoke-On-Trent I’ll just be painting away and I’ll end up with pile of work up to the ceiling. It excites and delights that Stokies always have their heart in Stoke – my work is on walls in offices in Dubai, homes in Australia, up in the Western Isles and Honolulu!! Stokies always take a piece of home away with them… I’ve walked and re-walked every inch of this city and there is new inspiration every time I do so – It’s all out there like a deep well of inspiration – I’ll always walk this city, that’s where my Art is…
When I was at college my lecturers wanted me to bring Africa to my work but to me it was just a place I grew up in – this place has an incredible dynamic and palette. It has a depth of history and character that thrills my imagination. I’m only just scratching the surface on my own family history; my Grandad was a bus conductor for the PMT, fought in WW2 at El Alamein and through Europe, my other Grandad was a butcher with a lifelong service to the Coop – made a black pudding to die for apparently! My Grandma’s brother fought both World Wars… he was a gunner, and he was at the Somme, which is an incredible piece of history in itself. My great, great grandad started work at Shelton Bar aged fourteen; invented a non-alcoholic drink to keep men from spending all their money in the pubs and support their families properly, spoke at the Primitive Methodist church on Union Street in Hanley (which is still there) …. there were lots of women in the family – one of my Granddads had seven sisters – paintresses in Potbanks… it could never end!
As I’ve noted, Stoke-On-Trent is my creative epicenter – it has a thousand year history of creativity – There’s a cultural revival rooted to the past and It’s fantastic to see all that is going on – the City of Culture sent it fever pitch and even though we didn’t get the title the feeling is till reverberating around the city. Stoke-On-Trent has a place in every city in the world – turn a plate over… or go to the toilet!!!.
I’m a plate-turner in every restaurant I go in wherever I am in the world and I expect to see a local reference otherwise I’m disappointed! That’s how important this city was in it’s creative standing in the world at one time.. and that world is still out there… I can remember popping to the loo in some far-out-of-the-way filling station on a bush road in the middle of Africa as a boy and noting the Twyfords logo!!
Stoke-On-Trent is one of the most important cities in the world!!
Over the last year or so I’ve been in collaboration with Dave Proudlove, ( @fslconsult ) culminating in a book illustrating his autobiographical book project titled ‘Ballad of the Streets’. Dave is a raging furnace of ideas who’s penmanship is worth the wait every Wednesday in The Sentinel, and is no stranger to this creative tome Ï believe! Dave wrote an article on my ‘Icarus’ exhibition at Gallery 116 in Stoke entirely from research without meeting and I was awed!! Dave spotted his story in a painting of mine, and that spawned a meeting, and subsequent conversations of kindred thinking over beers in The Congress Inn, Longton. I met him once and felt like I’d known him a lifetime, he’s that kind of chap!
Dave’s beautiful words echo a lot of my sentiments of the city … ” Ballad of the Streets is a look back at my coming of age in a working class neighbourhood as It’s city lost It’s industry and some of It’s purpose. It is a love letter to It’s people and the lives we livedtogether. It is a howl of fury at misguided and damaging political decisions that have eroded the character of such places, and affected people’s lives.
It is also a look at the human condition in a place without definition. It is part memoir, part social commentary, laced with emotion and dark, dark humour.”
We both work with Lindsay Bainbridge ( @MinxyOwl ) who’s a creative sauce and mutually bonkers, and who got us together in the first place – I don’t think we ever even arrange to meet each other – Lindsay you’ve got a lot to answer for girl!!! Twitter is the central given in our mutual universes – Lindsay is a forcefield of communicative energy. It’s a terrible thing but sometimes I acquaint with people by saying ‘oh you’re @…..’
I don’t think I should bang on about my work, it should have the power to speak for itself if it’s any good! Come and see ‘Fire & Light’ at The Art & Craft Collective at 93 Causewayside, in Edinburgh, ( @artcraftcollect ) and you tell me about it … tell me about you and your story …
See you around …”