There's a bridge over a river, a church steeple and pink tinged trees looming over some streets. It appears to be anywhere at first glance. But look closely, and there's the derelict shops on Whit Lane, rows of tinned up houses and a solitary person walking sadly by the Irwell.
Nigel Walker has captured the whole geographical area on one canvas – and given it a magical quality that few who live there could have imagined. If the painting comes on like the view of an outsider, that's exactly what the artist has aimed for.
Having grown up and lived in Salford, Nigel Walker took himself off on a bike ride through South East Asia producing a series of paintings on his return …featuring the huts, the rivers and the people he saw, wrapped in the hues and shades of an exotic place.
"When I got home I thought `I'm going to carry this on, I'm going to be a tourist in my own city, because no-one has done it'" Walker recalls "My friends in Swinton wouldn't dream of going to Kersal, the people I know in Kersal wouldn't dream of going to Eccles. And it baffles me how we have these invisible boundaries and it's only in your own head.
"When you ignore the roads and go with the freedom of a bike and a compass you're just going across green pastures as the crow flies" he adds "It's just like being abroad."
While some of the landscapes are sparkling and sanguine, these paintings are no twee tourist fodder. There's dead pigeons on the precincts, attitude problems towards immigrants, and sad, grotesque figures with twisted expressions staring off the canvases.
"It's as they are" says Walker "I think what is more of a problem is the image of perfection that is sold to us through the media. It's false. At least I've got the real people. You can tell that some are just hard working and have had hard lives but they're quite special for it. I've not gone out painting pretty pictures, some of the scenes you wouldn't dream of painting. I think that's why we like Lowry, because he painted things as they were."
The comparisons with Lowry can be drawn but that would be lazy. While Walker has done one or two paintings in the matchstick style as a nod to what's gone, there the similarities end. Lowry was stark and one dimensional, as the times dictated. Walker brings an almost mystical flavour to Salford. He even paints the modern view from Lowry's Station Road home, with unworldly blue twisted trees framing a garbage infested yard.
Walker's paintings are unmistakably `now' – Swinton Precinct covered in CCTV cameras and To Let signs. Eccles Precinct with more To Let signs and Aldi. Salford Precinct Market, demolished before the painting could be shown. And the people featured in every scene are actually real, snapped on Walker's iPhone for memory and later transformed larger than life.
He describes this collection of sixty scenes as almost like a Google overview of Salford and bits of Manchester. There's one that begins in the foreground of Eccles New Road and goes right out to Ordsall and MediaCityUK, via the chippies, takeaways, hoodies and heartache en route. You have to see the original canvases to get the intimate detail of each painting.
There's immigrants in Charlestown, Orthodox Jewish people in Broughton, boxers in Pendleton and life weary shoppers on Regent Road, as Salford's changes challenge the paintings' viewers.
"What I have seen is some of the new people, the new immigrants using public spaces like we'd never use them, like I saw one family having a picnic at the side of the River Irwell and thought `Why not?'" says Walker "It reflected their character and their culture, and I think we're better for it. People should look into their own neighbourhood because I've found that everyone has the same fear but it doesn't make sense. I've not come across any danger. But I have come across an awful lot of beautiful things."
And one of the most beautiful canvases depicts a journey through Worsley Woods, beginning at the mock Tudor shops and going off into another realm that brings the totally exotic to our own doorstep.
"Everyone seems to be sat in the same traffic jam going to the same destination" says Walker "Yet we have all these beautiful destinations where you can't actually spend money, so I don't know why people don't go to them more."
If anything can inspire people to explore the beauty and uniqueness of Salford it's this stunning exhibition. Walker has been there, done it and painted the pictures. It's an adventure on canvas. And so, so much more. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Don't miss!
Tourist In Your Own City
Salford Museum and Art Gallery
Until March 2013 free
For further details, opening times etc see the Salford Museum and Art Gallery website - click here
* Every painting in the exhibition is on sale with prices ranging from £600 to £6000. There are also limited edition prints at £200 and £500, posters at £10 and postcards at £1.
See the YouTube video of the Exhibition opening with Harold Riley who was "very impressed" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsRRprNkRnE&feature=em-share_video_user