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Lancashire Times
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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
9:14 PM 4th February 2021
arts

Artistry of Lancashire - Michael Ashcroft

Saturday Afternoon at the Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green
Saturday Afternoon at the Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green
Michael Ashcroft is an artist who is Lancashire born and bred, and who still lives and works in the county. With a wealth of awards to his name, he is represented by galleries in both England and Scotland, and his work has become highly sought-after. As a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the achievement of both have been proud moments in his career to date. He had always wanted to become an artist and to follow in his mother’s footsteps however, it was only on receiving a diagnosis of a brain tumour, deep behind his left ear, that he turned a passionate hobby into a career that fulfilled his dreams.

His work is usually described as belonging to the category of contemporary realism, using traditional techniques, but for Michael he just sees his work as producing “a piece of art that is true to yourself and the subjects you like.” Having always been attracted by the vibrancy of big cities, he still feels the same twinges of excitement on visiting centres such as London and Manchester as he did when he was a child. He enjoys capturing the light, the rain, the reflection and the feeling of melancholy that can emerge from an urban scene, particularly at night, but he also loves the northern rural landscapes, resplendent with muted green and blue hues, melting in to the oft-grey skies overhead.

Rivington Scarred, West Pennine Moors
Rivington Scarred, West Pennine Moors
He is restless in pursuit of subjects to paint; for him it is a full-time job, from which he never switches off. He chooses his subjects according to what moves him; whether something as simple as a reflection in a puddle, or an early morning sunrise, he firmly believes that art can be created out of anything. He says that at first you might not succeed, but once you learn what is needed to successfully capture a scene, or a feeling it evokes, you can paint anything. When painting the landscape, Michael will often work en plein air, whereas his night scenes are completed in his studio, based on sketches made in oil and ink on location, or using photographs he has taken.

Lancashire, for Michael, is one of the most beautiful areas in the country and he currently lives close to the South Ribble Valley, where he says sources of inspiration are unlimited. Other favourite places that never fail to inspire are Winter Hill and Rivington, which he has painted many times.

Cross Street, Manchester
Cross Street, Manchester

The advent of social media has been beneficial for those living and working as artists – it has provided a means to share your own work and to see and experience what other artists and craftspeople are producing. When he began painting, he felt as if artists were a distinct minority, but on reflection, he feels perhaps this was just because he had not discovered them. He admits to being biased but does feel that Lancashire can boast some of the finest artists in the country.

The internet and social media have also made art more accessible to the general public, but he would welcome more support for artists from municipal galleries. He thinks that sometimes galleries and museums just want to shock their intended audience with “wacky installations” perhaps forgetting that sometimes, all people want to see is a good piece of work well executed.

Cafe by the Sea, Fondamente Nove, Venice
Cafe by the Sea, Fondamente Nove, Venice
Modern art plays an enormously important role in the modern world – it has, he says, been around forever and it can influence peoples’ lives in so many ways. The experience of seeing something in real life for the first time, particularly something you’ve long admired, is a feeling you will treasure forever, he says, and I completely agree.

In the past year Michael has been unable to get out to paint as much as he would have liked, but it has provided the opportunity to catch up on work in his studio. He has, however, missed the company of friends and fellow painters, particularly the Northern Boys (https://www.contemporarysix.co.uk/the-northern-boys/) but, along with us all, he hopes something resembling normality will soon be able to resume.
His work is displayed in numerous galleries, including Contemporary Six Gallery in Manchester, York Fine Art Gallery, Hepplestones Fine Art Gallery and the Colourfield Gallery in Stockport. At first he was flattered and humbled by galleries approaching him to request they stock his work, but after a period he reluctantly chose to work only with those he felt he could truly commit to – he simply couldn’t produce the volumes of work required at a quality he was satisfied with.

The Palace, Manchester
The Palace, Manchester
Being accepted into the Royal Institute of Oil Painters was a real moment of pride in Michael’s career. He had tried to exhibit with them every year as a non-member; the process of selection being notoriously difficult. Every year they receive about 3000 entries, of which only 100 artists are chosen to exhibit their work and he says that “to be voted in by your peers means more to me than anything.” In 2020 he was awarded The Alan Gourley Memorial Award for Excellence at the Royal Institute Exhibition, which stands out for him amongst all his many accolades.

Of all the cities he has painted, Venice is a distinct favourite. At first, he was disinclined to paint there; after all, it has been painted so many times. But he discovered that there is a profound reason why it draws so many artists to its streets; put simply, it is beautiful and never fails to impress.

Early Snow, the farm, Lancashire
Early Snow, the farm, Lancashire
In usual times, Michael is a frequent visitor to galleries; each time he will take something meaningful from the experience, whether the discovery of a new artist or a new technique. He has taken inspiration from many artists over the years, not limited to Edward Hopper, Lucian Freud, Constable, Degas, Sickert, Canaletto, Valette and The Glasgow Boys. If given the opportunity, he would relish the chance to spend some time with the artist Antonio Lopez Garcia, whose work he describes as “incredible.”

Michael’s work can be viewed via his website www.michaeljohnashcroft.com
and you can follow him on Twitter @MJAshcroft or Instagram @mj_ashcroft

Local galleries that display his work are:
www.contemporarysix.co.uk

www.hepplestonefineart.com

https://www.colourfieldgallery.com/

Michael hopes to have a solo show at the Contemporary Six Gallery in Manchester later this year.