The North West Captured on Canvas by Shaun Smyth
Words by David Traves
“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter”. To extend Oscar Wilde’s prophetic words, I am of the opinion that every landscape that a painter paints is first and foremost the landscape of their soul and the sum of their experiences. And so it follows that no two painters will interpret a landscape on canvas in the same way. For Shaun Smyth the influence of his northern roots run deep and nowhere is that more evident than in his art. Capturing the ever changing landscape of the North West, is just one part of how his Northern heritage expresses itself through his work.
Shaun’s distinct style embodies the North: large, lively pieces capturing both the countryside and the city; the beautiful and the industrial. He creates landscapes that are boldly chaotic, yet equally studied. His visceral paintings are rich in both texture and depth, unafraid to build up his work using thick layers of paint to add physical depth to the depth he creates with his instinctive feel for perspective.
Movement is ever present in his work, irrespective of the medium he is able to express the concept that even a landscape is never truly still. Whether it be in the branches of a tree moving in the wind, or the changing colours of an overcast sky, the static images he creates convey movement beautifully. Equally the key element of light is expressed skillfully throughout his work by his sometimes bold, at other times subtle use of colour.
Runcorn Hill – Winter Snow by Shaun Smyth Runcorn Hill – Summer light by Shaun Smyth
Shaun’s roots in the North West are firmly grounded.
Brought up in Runcorn, his father worked on the tug-boats that used the Manchester Ship Canal. Currently living in Wigan with his wife, Shaun studied at Halton Art College and then the Wirral Metropolitan College, gaining a fine art degree from John Moore’s University. It was at this time Shaun had the good fortune to study under the celebrated landscape painter, Mike Knowles, whose work has exhibited everywhere from The Walker Art Gallery to the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith London and has been commissioned by the likes of Radio City and the Welsh Arts council.This influence can be seen to this day, as Shaun’s art, which although fiercely original, draws on the brilliance of Knowles’ work in many aspects.
As a young man he immersed himself in the urban culture of the North West. His passion for Northern Soul led him to DJ, doing sets at some of Liverpool’s most iconic clubs, such as the Magnet and the Mask where he kept ‘the faith’ championing Northern Soul. Despite being a regular on the North West’s club scene, Shaun worked in the community using his art to positively impact on his surroundings.
Working in the youth service and setting himself up as Artist in Residence at the Grange school. Now at the age of forty he teaches Art and Photography at Ormiston Bolingbroke Academy in Runcorn, continuing to inspire young people, increasing their sense of self-worth and opening new doors to them through art. Through it all though Shaun has stayed first and foremost an artist in his own right.
His work has been exhibited across the Liverpool and Cheshire area. He has been featured with reference to his work in local newspapers and magazines, whilst wining multiple prizes for his work including the first prize at the Halton Art Open.
Agios Gordios – Greece by Shaun Smyth
A well-travelled artist Shaun has captured landscapes in a myriad of countries including Italy, Morocco, Croatia and Tunisia, yet inevitably his work brings him back to his roots. With both his past and present firmly grounded in the North West, it was an artistic home coming when in 2007 Shaun took on a project to capture the redevelopment of the Runcorn Quayside. ‘The Deck project’ saw Shaun working directly from sight, recording the construction of the modern apartment buildings overlooking the Mersey and the architecturally significant Runcorn Bridge through a series of large-scale drawings. This allowed him to capture the stages of the construction and to juxtapose the architectural history of the area and the natural landscape with the modern ever-changing architectural landscape of the North West.
Shaun has been quoted as saying: “This project has been an investigation into my past as my father worked on the Runcorn Quayside”. Much of the work from the project was exhibited at the nearby Brindley gallery as part of their ‘Urban Shore’ exhibition.
The Deck – Looking back at Phase one by Shaun Smyth
What is perhaps most exciting about Shaun’s work is that while some artists stagnate and others sadly exhibit clear signs that their best work is behind them, with both Shaun’s art and his work ethic as an artist you get a strong sense that despite all he’s done, his best is yet to come! But whatever the direction his work takes one thing’s for sure: the North will continue to influence and inspire him.