Liam Spencer. Painting the town.

Liam Spencer has taken to making small paintings. Quite a contrast to the expansive landscapes that have epitomised his work for more than two decades.

By Richard Morris | Last updated 27 July 2022

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On the re-opening of the Manchester City Gallery in 2002, reincarnated as Manchester Art Gallery, I visited to view the new environment and ‘old art’ that had been in the collection for as long as I can remember.

There was a space entitled ‘The Manchester Room.’ I looked forward to the Lowry’s, The Valette’s, the Theodore Major’s…but as I walked in I was startled by what I thought was a light box in the midst of dark Manchester landscapes.

It was a Liam Spencer painting of Chapel Street and my fascination with his work began.

I once asked Liam how he achieved the glow that his paintings possess and disarmingly he said, “I just treat my paints like a child would do, lots of bright colours and primaries.” Sounds easy…

During the subsequent decades Liam has painted not only Manchester, but around the world. Although he always returns to the Rossendale landscapes which fascinate him. We were chatting about the Chapel Street painting and he said, “Just yesterday I was standing on the same spot that I painted all those years ago and, although I know the city has changed so much, when you stop and look in detail all those changes come into focus. I think that I might paint it again.” I look forward to that with anticipation.

Liam studied fine art at Manchester Polytechnic, living and working in Manchester. “There were so few artists in Manchester in those days,” he says, “that whenever there was an exhibition opening all the same people were there.”

He first came to attention in 2000, when his show ‘Urban Panoramas’ opened at the new Lowry Arts Centre in Salford. In 2006 his exhibition ‘From Manchester to Shanghai’ at Manchester Art Gallery was the subject of a BBC documentary.

Liam describes his work as, “A visual diary of places he has been and seen.” And for me, nobody captures atmosphere in such vibrant colour.

So we turn to why he has begun to paint ‘small scale.’ Liam talks about the ‘cumulative effect’ of small images, either individually or larger works broken down into smaller panels.

I first saw these works at the Whitaker in Rossendale last Summer. I was, I have to admit, surprised, being used to the drama and expansiveness of Liam’s landscapes. It’s not a change, it’s a diversification and, he adds, Gwen John and Vermeer worked small. Then with a smile he adds, “Actually they are pocket sized paintings for a post Brexit apocalypse…”

Watercolour too has entered Liam’s genre, with beautiful, large monochrome panelled landscapes and individual wild life drawings, first exhibited in clusters of a hundred or more at the Whitaker.

I don’t think that anybody paints the town better than Liam. And I look forward to a re-visiting of the Chapel Street vista, which first startled me into seeing Manchester painted in a different light.