Whilst I love to visit exhibitions, to me there is nothing better than visiting an artist in his or her studio.
That reveals so much more about their work than agonised about, carefully framed and considered positioning in a gallery. More so in this case, because Colin Taylor’s Lightspace exhibition is of, from and about The Royal Exchange Theatre.
Or rather, originally about the space between the theatre and the grand Exchange building itself. But the exhibition – running from the 26th of September, is unique in that works will be displayed at both the Royal Exchange and at Contemporary Six Gallery on Princess Street.
So, in Colin’s Altrincham studio we talk about mountains. Twofold really. Colin and a business partner own two climbing centres, one in Birmingham and one in Warrington. But his love of mountains is a little geographically wider than that.
“I was climbing a big lump in Ecuador, it was taking a while, eighteen or nineteen thousand feet. Each step was painful, hard work, lack of air. When you’ve spent a week lugging yourself up a mountain and a guy flies past in a microlight photographing the mountain, you realise that your own experience of a mountain is different from his. Mine was not about the beauty of the mountain – although it was beautiful – it was about the pain of getting up there. And all I was thinking was how can I reproduce that pain in a way that would be accessible to somebody else?”
So Colin paints mountains. And landscapes. But not just mountains, trees and hills.
“Landscapes change slowly, incrementally. Cityscapes change very fast. A fast moving landscape. From that mountain in Ecuador I was looking at how people living alongside it were also shaping the landscape constantly. It was our personal landscape that I was interested in. My landscape, whether that’s a city, or Ecuador or the Lake District.”
Colin shows me a painting which he has been working on since around 2012. A view from the top of the St. James’s Building on Oxford Road. “It’s been on exhibition, come back and I’m working on it again.”
I’m beginning to understand that Colin likes timescales in his work and projects. Like his No. 1 Spinningfields project, when he journeyed through the complete construction of a building from ‘a hole in the ground to completion.’ That series was commissioned by Rachel Haugh of Simpson Haugh Architects. Rachel: “I was taken with Colin’s urban work, the strong and assertive use of line and colour.”
So, on to The Royal Exchange. “I like to work in a series, trying to put all the elements together. I am a painter, but putting together the whole process is what I find fascinating. I wanted to capture the juxtaposition between the two structures, the theatre module and the building surrounding it.
“Paint the light created in a controlled environment, which changes all the time. As it happened I then started to paint the performances too. About the unreal world that is being portrayed. I found that I was interested in the landscape created by those performances. Created by the director.”
This is all a far cry from Colin’s history of largely administrative jobs, which are now in something of a distant past. After training in art, dance and drama he realised, he told me, ‘that he had to earn a crust.’
Whilst continuing to paint – and exhibiting in France and Sweden – he worked for a long time in advertising sales, for a regional development agency and other jobs before a ‘road to Damascus’ moment when, “The same piece of paper kept coming back to me. I realised that if I was beamed up the world would continue without me.” Colin had had enough and concentrated on being a painter.
“I emailed about seventy galleries in New York. There was a wall of silence from sixty-eight, one told me to bugger off and one got back to me and said that they liked the work. That led to an exhibition in Manhattan, two or three exhibitions in Georgetown Washington DC and then over to Paris. All from seventy emails.”
Colin also worked for a year making charcoal drawings inside Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, which were exhibited in the Knave there and led to a series of work created in Liverpool’s twin city Cologne.
In Colin’s studio I saw the work which will go on show at the Royal Exchange and Contemporary Six. And the stash of paper bought on EBay, which he worked on. The paper dates back to the 1930s and 1950s and, without a mark on it, is beautiful in itself.
“I originally intended to work on canvas, but realised that I needed to create translucency. The hand made paper breathes. I started to buy inks from Germany – now I have more bloody inks than I know what to do with! And these little Dulux tester rollers are wonderful, the lightweight application of emulsion plays well with ink and pens.”
“In March next year I have a show at the Chilean Embassy in London, Chris Bonington is opening it and some of the work will go back out to Chile. I love the planning as much as the painting.”
No doubt Colin Taylor will be climbing mountains again.