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Chris Cyprus Painting Under Orange Glow

Gorton-born artist Chris Cyprus may have taken a while to pursue the path of painting, but his talent for capturing the essence of mill towns in Greater Manchester and beyond has been warmly received since turning to art 20 years ago.

Following his two previous bodies of work, Allotments and Northern Colour, both of which celebrate the vibrancy of everyday life across typically Northern scenes, Cyprus turned to dusk-lit settings around 2006. Almost ten years later, in 2015, the series of paintings was given a circumstantial endpoint by the UK Government ruling that sodium bulb street lights should be replaced by environmentally friendlier LED options. This year, his Northern Lights collection reaches conclusion with 250 paintings to illustrate a moment of history whose halcyon visualisation has recently elapsed.

Cyprus answered our questions ahead of the Northern Lights exhibition, which previews over the weekend of 10-11 March (11am to 5pm) and runs until 1 April at Contemporary Six gallery on Princess Street.

When and how did you begin to develop your style and processes as an artist?

My style has developed slowly over the two decades that I’ve been painting. The first major transition was after a painting trip to the south of France in 2001. Up to this point, I only worked in water colour, but the hot climate made this difficult. I trialled oils as an alternative and noticed a great reaction to my new bolder paintings.

Are there any other artists whose work has influenced you?

As a self-taught painter, with no formal training in technique or art history, I had no points of reference when I first started painting. All I knew was that I loved colour. I began with the obvious, studying the works of the Impressionists out of books, soon followed by the Fauvists. I never liked the paintings by LS Lowry. I found them depressing. I wanted to celebrate life in all its glory, even its most mundane aspects. I also love the illustrative railway billboard posters from the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, the narrative works of the Ashington group (the Pitmen painters) and the East London group. I have also been inspired by the bold paintings of the Yorkshire Wolds by David Hockney.

At what point did you realise you could pursue your art as a career? What advice would you give to other artists currently at that stage?

In 2001, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and in 2003 it returned. This forced me to evaluate my life and career, and these difficult years gave me the motivation and focus I needed to succeed as an artist. Meanwhile, a work-related back injury meant I had to step away from my former livelihood as a self-employed builder and concentrate on art full-time.

The first piece of advice I took from an artist friend was to “only paint what you love and what’s familiar to you”. It’s what I still tell myself every day. It can be easy to create art to suit current trends, but my biggest fear was becoming a pastiche painter of old nostalgia, painting scenes from a bygone age with rose tainted spectacles. That’s why I decided to end the Northern Lights series, and move on to other things and evolve.

How do you select your locations?

Most of the North West locations are very close to where I live. The close proximity of all these towns and villages works well in my time frame, as I work around school runs at both ends of the day. The Northern Lights series is all about the small window at dusk in the winter months. I can visit an area of interest, take photographs and return to the studio before the day end. Some of the locations are based around gallery visits. I can drop off paintings, then have a mooch around.

Do you have a favourite painting from your Northern Lights series?

Ahhh, that question again! No, it would be impossible to pick one from 250 paintings. However, there are some that hold more significance than others. In retrospect, they are like my holiday snaps, capturing memories, looking through old family albums. They are all part documentary, part fantasy.

What can we expect from your exhibition at Contemporary Six and beyond?

The Northern Lights series, running to 250 paintings, was a decade-long race against time to capture the orange glow of sodium street lamps at dusk, before they are replaced all over the UK by greener alternatives. I’m not one to dwell, and the exhibition will be a bitter-sweet ending, but it’s time to move on. There will be 37 paintings available at the exhibition, plus a limited edition book to celebrate the series. Now, I am midway through the first 15 new paintings for my Spring catalogue. I am also hoping to follow up on a recent trip to North America to study rural landscapes and continue with a series of paintings I have made here in the Pennines and North Yorkshire about the subject of farmsteads – another landscape that I feel will rapidly change in years to come.

Northern Lights previews over the weekend of 10-11 March (11am to 5pm) and runs until 1 April at Contemporary Six gallery on Princess Street.

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