Artistry Of Lancashire - Chris Cyprus
Last one Standing - 2013
Chris Cyprus is a well-known artist working from a studio space in a converted cotton mill in Mossley, Lancashire, a town he describes as semi-rural. It is known as the “town of three counties” as is borders Yorkshire and Cheshire, but he says it is clear which parts belong to Lancashire.
He moved to the town as a child and was awed by the “magical scenes” of red brick mills and local shops on every corner. Through his paintings, he suspects he is trying to preserve some elements of this past life, and the impact the scenes had on his childhood eyes. His work has been described as “nostalgic, but in real time” and its true that his work encapsulates the emotional response he has to a place now, entwined with the memories recalled from his youth.
Chris is a self-taught artist and initially when painting northern urban scenes he would eschew the “undesirable” objects such as wheelie bins and cars. But art, as with many, prompted his own ‘”journey of self-discovery” and so following the advice of a good friend, he began by painting “what he knew” which in turn led to him recognising a distinct quality to what he terms the “mundane.”
In 2005 he says he developed a “fascination with humble garden shed” – to him they appeared as Tardis-like time capsules containing old junk, but acting as if a “sanctuary for old men” and this not only encapsulated everything one might consider the mundane, the ordinary and, to some extent, the rather dull; Chris could see beyond this. For him, the allotments sheds formed the basis of a series of paintings, capturing the quintessential nature of “community spirit” that was once so vibrant, featuring in early 20th century poster art and the WW2 Dig for Victory campaigns, but which was now fading into the recesses of memory, save for these nostalgic relics of time gone by. The project therefore renewed his desire to “search for the less obvious beauty within a scene.”
At a similar time, during the winter, he was working on a project called Streets and Houses in which he would capture the most ordinary street scenes of his native Northern towns. Once, as night was drawing in, the streetlights flared into light, emitting a warm, orange hue across the darkening cobalt skies – the blue and orange acting in compliment to another and a delight to any discerning eye. This began another series, this time lasting a decade, entitled Northern Lights and comprising over 250 paintings on completion. Towards the end of this project, when traditional street lights were being re-fitted with LED bulbs, his project was noticed by the BBC One Show and his exhibition to mark the project conclusion was also featured on local BBC News – a hugely successful show which sold out on the opening weekend. Chris felt he’d reached a significant milestone in his own success, but this was not his first appearance on TV, having featured in 2008 on Gardeners World. Chris had advertised his collection of paintings in the allotment series in an allotment gardening magazine and it was picked up by a researcher of the TV show who invited him to appear.
Despite the resounding success of the Northern Lights project, he felt it was time to move to new pastures and more recently, in addition to extending his gallery into an adjoining studio, he has been working on a series entitled Village Squares – a continuation from the Streets and Houses series of 2005.
This year he invested in a new online shop and personal website which has sustained his sales through the lockdown period, backed up with a strong artistic brand and a high level of customer service he offers to his clients.
Cod & Lobster
The rise of social media in the past decade has brought a benefit to Chris and the art world in general – giving access to a worldwide audience that was difficult, if not impossible before, even using established galleries. However, it has downsides: despite the general acclaim he can receive from social media followers, Chris does believe that the abundance of artwork shared online can influence how people perceive the value of art. Some, he says, cannot see beyond the price tag and he does feel that art is much better valued in Europe and America than here in the UK. Some people see art as an investment, something to hand down to future generations and with many pieces increasing in value over time. For other people, however, art only becomes of value or important when it is taken away.
That said, Chris feels that art plays a hugely important role in the modern world and firmly believes in “art for art’s sake” – enjoying it purely for what it is and not what it represents. There are people who still collect art for its financial value alone, but in Chris’s experience he finds that people love paintings because of how they make a person feel, and the curiosity people have in the stories that are attached to the pieces. In an increasingly digitised world which removes so much person-to-person contact and connection, Chris feels that art has an important role to play in maintaining health and wellbeing.
He enjoys welcoming people to his studio space to ‘experience’ his art, view the finished pieces and all those that are work in progress. He feels that there has been less opportunity for artists to show their work in galleries across Lancashire in recent years, with the closure due to local authority cuts of publics galleries and spaces, and with private galleries struggling with high rents and business rates on the high streets. Covid-19 has inevitably caused many smaller galleries to close and like many small businesses, perhaps a coping mechanism might involve a rethink of strategy. Some galleries, Chris has noted, always sell the work of only a select few artists, which in turn limits its appeal to a wider audience, who might want a more diverse collection. It’s important for people to see original art ‘in real life’ to better appreciate it – a digital reproduction never does a painting justice.
For Chris, who is lucky to be well-known and well-established, he feels it important to choose how and where he shows his work. His work inevitably has more value if demand outstrips availability, and he chooses therefore to display his pieces in only one or two galleries at a time. But, of course, he remains wary of becoming over-commercialised, as that, it seems, depreciates the true value of an artist.
Chris has, like all artists, weathered the good times and the bad. He believes the difficult times are inevitable, even perhaps necessary to your own self-development. Being an artist requires commitment and self-belief: Chris decided to turn professional back in 1999 after a back injury rendered him unable to continue in the building trade, with subsequent cancer treatments redefining what really mattered to him in life. These significant events bolstered his desire to pursue what was important to him, giving him confidence in his own ability to persevere.
His art career has therefore evolved from beginning with experimentations in watercolours, a skill he honed for eight years before moving into his present studio and becoming bolder and larger in scale with work using acrylic and oil. As we know, acrylic and oil paint bring a certain vivacity to the canvas other materials fail to deliver and he has drawn influence from movements such as the Fauves, who, to Chris, broke all the rules with their “brave, ambitious images in multicolour.” Later he has connected with the work of those he considers innovators and leaders in their fields, artists such as Stanley Spencer, Keith Vaughan and David Hockney. Given the chance, Chris would love to see how Van Gogh would render the natural and post-industrial Pennine landscapes on canvas, perhaps even his take on an allotment scene!
Chris is due to hold an exhibition in August 2021 in Anglesey (postponed from this summer) at the Old School Gallery in Aberffraw which is part of the non-profit organisation called Artism UK, supporting people on the autistic spectrum. Details can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Artism-UK-1478049645816889
You can view Chris’s work and contact him via the website https://www.chriscyprus.com/
Find him on Twitter @ChrisCyprus or visit his online shop https://www.chriscyprus.shop/
You can also find him on Facebook @chriscyprusart