Friday, June 5, 2020

Gordon Clegg

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One of the most important figures in the UK contemporary art scene is the locally-born, practitioner
prolific multimedia artist, more
Gordon Clegg.

To learn more about Gordon’s portraits, buy information pills
and to discover the process behind his latest work, Community Matter’s Feature Editor, Roger Bamford visited the artist’s Mossley studio. Although very much self-taught, Gordon has spent his whole life drawing. “It’s the only thing I could do,” he said, “as a kid, I was never interested in playing football or other sports, I was always happiest when I could find a clean sheet of paper to draw on”.

Gordon’s story starts as a pupil of West Hill Secondary Modern School, where he was taught and very much inspired by the remarkable water-colourist Owen Traynor. He said, “…he taught me to look at things in detail. I loved to paint landscapes and this kept me reasonably happy for many a year, but I was never really happy, I always thought they had something missing and I didn’t know what it was until I tried to paint my first portrait, and it soon became apparent that the missing ingredient was emotion!!!

Sitting in his studio, stretched out in his favourite armchair; mug of strong tea in hand, surrounded by literally hundreds of original brilliant artworks, Gordon explained. “…I always start my portraits with the eyes. I find so much in them from sadness, joy, love, despair and pain, it’s all there in the eyes; those are the emotions, I feel, are missing in the landscape.”

So for 30 years Gordon spent every evening drawing with pen and inks to create a series of works that he exhibited in his first one man exhibition at the prestigious Astley-Cheetham art gallery in Stalybridge. That was quickly followed by successful exhibitions at the People’s Gallery and last year, 2013, at The Museum, in Uppermill. Gordon was born locally in October 1947 in Hyde’s sister town of Stalybridge and has lived there ever since.

Spending time with Gordon in his studio, encircled by images, drawings and paintings of sport stars and icons of stage, screen and the music industry, he explained that growing up in the 60’s was great fun; “…we were all influenced by the music and film of the time; stars that were of genuine iconic status and these stars inspired me to try and capture the essence of the times in their portraits.” But today, he joked, “…all music, film and politics seem to look alike, or, he asked, is that just me getting old?” Showing me around and unveiling his latest work, he explained, “These days, I spend all my time on commissions; mostly of people who have sadly passed away, which is a shame; you see ‘The Portrait’ as a work of art isn’t really accepted in this country as much as it is in the rest of Europe and America, even though a painting can show far more emotions and inner depths than any photograph can!”

I asked Gordon about his distinctive style, and he told me that his influences have been varied and many. “From the Pre-Raphaelites to Rembrandt and most recently to David Oxtoby, whose rockers are modern masterpieces, but I think the greatest portrait artist of all is the American, Chuck Close, whose portraits are of unbelievable size and strength. He pioneered the full on look, the subject staring out of the painting at the viewer, which I always find a little un-nerving, I think he has influenced me most. That’s why I have tried to capture something of this style myself, in my portraits”.

When one study’s Gordon’s work, you’ll discover he uses many different mediums in his paintings! From oils, pen and inks, and his favourites, pencil crayons, mixed with inks.

Reaching for a drawing pad, he showed me first-hand how they allowed him to mix skin tones and then demonstrated how they allowed him to achieve many colours and depths of blacks and whites.

“A commission I was very proud of was of the actor, comedian and tireless charity fund raiser Ricky Tomlinson. He was a joy to paint, a very humble man, also I painted the late Bernard Manning, again a very generous man his portrait now hangs in the boardroom of the family business.”

Gordon works from a 200 year old cotton mill in nearby, Mossley! Showing me around, he proudly pronounced, “Yes, Woodend Mill has been my workplace for nearly ten years now and I still love to come to my studio every day to work on my oil paintings, some of which are going towards my next exhibition; and then, when I’m finished here, I return home, have a glass of beer, before I start work on more commissions, I just love it.”

“So, you see, my time at the moment is split between working in my studio in ‘The Mill’ and the People’s Gallery, in Stalybridge, of which he proudly told me, he was the manager, and to which he explained, “it’s purely a volunteer run gallery that has given many local artists a start on this great journey called ART!”

I finished a most enjoyable afternoon talking with Gordon by thanking him for his time and his tea and wished him on behalf of all at COMMUNITY MATTERS and our readers, continuing success in the next chapter of his work. He humbly accepted and reciprocated by inviting our readers to visit him and view his work at his studio in Woodend Mill, anytime.

Interviewed by Roger Bamford