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11:17 AM 9th November 2020

Artistry of Lancashire: Steve Rostron

Steve Rostron is an artist from the Ribble Valley, whose contemporary, semi-abstract paintings have been inspired by the landscape he adores, and are often described as “moody, atmospheric and powerful”. This week, we hear direct from the artist, in his own words:

I am an artist living and working in Sabden, Lancashire. I work mostly in oil paint, which I love as a medium due to its flexibility and organic qualities. It's a perfect material to use for my main, preferred subject matter - that is landscape.

I was a secondary school teacher for nearly fifteen years before I made the commitment to being a full-time artist. I enjoyed my time as a teacher but I'd like to have taken the plunge into being an artist earlier in my life. I believe my prior experience has provided a deep appreciation for what I now do.

My choice of landscape is almost an obsession. I've always loved the landscape - since I was very young I've spent happy hours wandering the hills and valleys in and around Lancashire. I was brought up in predominantly rural surroundings and although I find cities/towns fascinating, the countryside is in my heart.

Landscapes are such a great subject matter as they allow me opportunities for experiments and expressive marks with the painted surface. I don't have a rigid way of working and I try to mix up my approach. I will sometimes work on themes like my river paintings or Pendle Hill. These works are of defined places, mostly near to where I live. I don't need to go too far around the Ribble Valley to find places of inspiration. I sometimes work outside, painting directly from observation. My preferred method is to make drawings and gather reference material before working in my studio on bigger pieces.

I also work in a more abstract manner. These paintings are usually, but not always, larger canvasses. They contain elements of the landscape and sky but with an emphasis on colour and mark making. They are generally atmospheric and dramatic, with a more emotional response.

I don't think that you choose to be an artist: it's something you have to do. I’m a case in point: after years of doing other things I ended up turning to art. I began to draw, I think, in response to a traumatic event that happened in my early childhood and I think this emotional response happens for many creative people. Creating art, I feel, is quite an introverted thing to do as you spend many hours alone and lost in your thoughts.

After becoming an artist full-time in 2014 I was involved in a joint exhibition at the Longitude Gallery in Clitheroe. I sold ten paintings by the end of the private viewing - such an amazing evening! It gave me the confidence to continue on this new path. At the same time I started working part time at the Picture House gallery in Padiham as a framer. Selling art doesn’t provide a guaranteed income so it was such a perfect place to work as well as show my paintings.

I was fortunate enough to win two painting competitions in 2017. I'd never done day competitions before and I managed to get 1st prize in both 'Painting Padiham' and 'Create Longridge.' I started showing my work at Longridge Gallery after the event.

There are a few Art Societies in Lancashire for whom I've been invited to do talks and demonstrations.

I still feel at the start of my artistic journey although it is something I have done all my life. It is only latterly that I’ve felt I am making progress. When I made the transition from teaching to art I thought it was a little self indulgent. However, when I see the pleasure that owning a piece of original art brings to people, I think differently. To create something from basic materials that stirs in someone an emotional response is quite magical. Art can enable people to see the world in a different way, from a different perspective or simply brighten up their living space. In this current time of lockdown, I think it's very important. We are bombarded with images every day, whether from the television, the internet or social media. Art can seem a little overshadowed by technology and the speed and pace of the world. Art operates within a slower time frame: it takes a long to time to create. If the human hand and eye can connect with the material, giving time to apply the layers of paint, and then in turn form a connection with the viewer, it can be very profound.

When the first lockdown happened in the spring, I was moved by how it had a positive effect on some people, whilst also being a difficult time for so many. It gave people a chance, to some extent, to reconnect with nature. The absence of traffic meant you could hear more clearly and find some inner quiet. Also, some people had time to take up a create venture like drawing or learning a musical instrument. Being creative is immensely important for people's mental health. Art, whether creating it or experiencing it provides for people what I call 'slow time' – a moment of pause in our otherwise, often hectic, lifestyles.

There are plenty of places to find in Lancashire to experience art. There are outdoor sculpture trails as well as public and private galleries. Where I live in Sabden I can go a few miles in either direction and discover one. People can be intimidated by entering a gallery, but I think that's human nature. There are also plenty of places where you might serendipitously stumble upon an exhibition, in, for example, pubs and restaurants.

Of course it's very different at the moment due to the pandemic. With galleries shut and little opportunities to show my work I have spent time improving my website and selling online. The latter is an art form in itself but, unfortunately, something I do find quite tedious! In my view, you can't appreciate art on a screen properly - no more than you can substitute a person with a photograph. There is subtlety in a genuine, original piece that is missed when viewed online. My large-scale formats in particular, do not come across well on a small screen. During the first lockdown I did, however, start using watercolour paint – something I had not tried in a long time. I sold these small paintings through my website and I found this kept me occupied and engaged throughout the early part of the year. After the lockdown was lifted, I sold quite a lot of work through the galleries, especially in the south of the country. I think people who weren't going on holiday wanted to improve their living spaces which resulted in me having a high frequency of sales in a short space of time.

With this current lockdown, it is difficult to know where to turn next, plans have been changed once again. I had to cancel an exhibition that would have been running now. I am spending my time exploring different things: I'm responding in my own way to the current situation we are all in, I can't ignore it. I've turned my attention to drawing of the human figure and doing less landscape work at the moment. Hopefully, this change in direction can develop into something that I might be able to exhibit in the new year. I do feel lucky in some ways that I have such an outlet as painting and drawing as it keeps me positive.

You can view Steve's work via his website www.steverostron.co.uk or following him on Facebook @steverostronfineart