Just back from the latest Liam Spencer exhibition launch at the Whitaker, Rawtenstall. The visit re-kindled memories of wandering into the City Gallery, Manchester, maybe two decades ago. A painting on the far wall glowed. So much so that I genuinely thought that it was an illuminated light box. But, of course, as I walked towards the painting I saw that the light shining from it was pure pigment. The application of oil paint in such a way that I’d not seen before, other than beautiful highlights in the paintings of old masters.
The name on the title board was Liam Spencer, then a relatively young artist and relatively unknown. At least to me. Liam’s depictions of Manchester cityscapes captured the essence of rainy, hazy days, a vibrant ‘smog’ of colour in what – two decades ago – was a city that seemed void of colour. Of course I eventually tracked Liam down and had the opportunity to talk to him about his art and visit his studio – many times. ‘It’s simple,’ he told me (I think I remember), ‘just primary colours, like a child’s box with pots of paints.’ Oh how I wish I could capture one brush stroke that glowed.
Around a decade later I was designing and managing an exhibition stand for the City of Manchester in Cannes. I had done the job two or three times before, with all the lights and whizz bangs and graphics that exhibition stands are, to capture the audience. On this occasion I had a chat with Liam, built a white space in the Palais de Congress and exhibited fifteen or so of Liam’s paintings. The result – and not just by my reckoning – was simple and spectacular, being awarded the accolade of best stand amidst hundreds at the exhibition.
The current Whitaker exhibition though, features ink drawings on a micro scale of nature, and a macro scale of grids bound together to create large works. Plus, of course, cityscapes and landscapes of equal beauty in vibrant oils. And whether light box bright or black and white, the capturing of natural light is supreme.
And as a post script…I collect art, but a Liam Spencer original has eluded me. Maybe a decade ago I went to one of Liam’s exhibitions with my daughter, who was then about fifteen. She said to Liam, ‘I love that one.’ And Liam said, ‘You can have it.’ I had brunch with my daughter today - now twenty-five - and asked her if she still had it. Daft question, of course she has. ‘Yes, will you get it re-framed for me?’ Ah well.