Liam Spencer's new exhibition opened in March to great delight from the gathered guests and visitors at the Salford Art Gallery…
Painting from Life: Twenty Years and Counting is an exhibition that encompasses Spencer's early work, more famous pieces and new pieces. With the specific local interest of Salford and Manchester, it is a celebration of his two decades as a successful commercial artist. There are also photographs and sketches showing how he creates his final pieces.
Spencer has been categorised as a city/landscape artist whose style in his own words is "close to impressionism". Now with a studio in Rossendale after being based in Manchester and Salford, Spencer, who studied at the Manchester Metroplitain University, has a growing reputation which has seen him paint all over the world, with paintings in the exhibition depicting Beijing, New York and Istanbul.
I was pleased when looking round the exhibition to see that there are a large number of pictures of local interest, ranging from canal scenes in Worsley and Eccles to images of Salford Quays and Chapel Street. I asked Liam Spencer whether this was a deliberate ploy. He answered that it was "as it's nice to do something people relate to".
Knowing that he was going to exhibit in Salford, Spencer has created a collection of images depicting our city, which I found to be a really nice touch with the artist involving visitors in the exhibition by showing them familiar areas in a different light.
Spencer has painted the images in this exhibition in his distinctive loose and flowing style, focusing on the shapes within the scene and their light. He does this so successfully that his work, when judged as he intends from a few feet, is remarkably detailed. It is a way of working I find reassuring to the eye, and allows you to view and enjoy the painting as a whole, rather than being overwhelmed by specific detail and losing the composition.
Spencer's favourite painting in this exhibition is one of Times Square showing New York's iconic yellow taxis waiting as pedestrians cross in front. It is also a supreme example of his style.
Reading critiques of Spencer's work beforehand, I had prepared myself for an afternoon looking at dark and moody images of city streets or moorland. But I found his work to be the exact opposite, with his work being bright and striking. Paintings based on dark scenes, such as night, have patches of light and colour that light them up.
This was a contradiction that I had to ask Spencer about. So does it irritate him that he seems to be typecast as another northern painter who focuses on the dirty old towns of Lowry? He replied that he doesn't worry, adding "Lowry's vision is one of its time and is very powerful. But there is quite a lot of blue sky in these pictures of Salford... It's a different landscape to 50-60 years ago and I just reflect that."
On a personal level I enjoyed looking at the majority of paintings on display, Spencer's panoramic paintings especially of Istanbul and Salford Quays were favourites. I also found his New York cityscapes to be stunning. The small number of paintings with people as a focus in a cityscape were enjoyably eerie, as Spencer has captured their movement and presence without putting detail in their faces giving them an almost spectral persona.
As a commercial artist Spencer's new work is up for sale with prices for a small original painting starting at £2000. It is a lot of money but with his star continuing to rise an original Spencer may be a sound investment in future years, and is probably a lot less risky than the stock market. For those of us who are not looking to invest you can buy excellent quality prints and postcards of Spencer's work at the exhibition to display at home.
It's a pity that Liam Spencer will not be able to show visitors around every day, as he was extremely approachable, mingling with the guests and visitors, answering questions, sharing thoughts and signing prints.
Painting from Life: Twenty Years and Counting runs at Salford Museum and Art Gallery until 3rd July 2011.
Peel Park, The Crescent, Salford M5 4WU
0161 778 0800 Click here for further details
Open: Monday to Friday: 10.00am to 4.45pm, Saturday and Sunday: 1.00pm to 5.00pm
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Words and photos by Gareth Lyons