The largest Grade II* listed building in Europe, Urban Splash and Mandy Payne. Whilst the first two have a potentially obvious connection, an ex-dentist and now acclaimed artist is perhaps less likely. But all three have become connected over the past decades.
Mandy Payne studied art and science at A level. Her initial career took her along the scientific route, but with a social focus, during 25 years as a community dentist.
Mandy’s school was a large concrete comprehensive in Bradford. An example of Brutalist architecture which she told me had obviously entered her consciousness in those early years.
In her work as a dentist she travelled past Park Hill in Sheffield every day, which was largely an abandoned Brutalist concrete housing estate, with what – in 1998 – became the largest single listed building in Europe. A sprawling interconnected honeycomb of flats which had 1,100 dwellings on occupation in the early 60s.
This social experiment failed, although unlike many concrete modular buildings of the period – such as the doomed Hulme Crescents – the structure remained intact if abandoned.
Concrete, Brutalist architecture – and dilapidation – were seeping into Mandy’s consciousness and the art segment of her education began to overtake the science as, after 25 years in dentistry, she completed a part-time art degree. Although her connection with social struggle experienced in the community then combined with her creativity.
In 2012 during her work on the degree, there was a print-making module. Mandy explained to me how she had experimented with using an etched plate to print onto plaster. “Yes, dental plaster!” she said.
That awoke an interest in using hard materials and soon progressed to creating works on concrete – which she, “Mixed in a bowl with a kitchen mixer. I created flat slabs of concrete to work on and began to experiment with adding spray paint, oils, anything that I could use that reflected the beauty that can be found in the ordinary of those buildings, their social relevance and importance, their more recent refurbishment and gentrification. How those changes showed themselves.”
Enter Urban Splash, who are renovating the Park Hill flats into mixed-use, modern and dynamic living and working spaces. But it was the as yet un-refurbished parts of Park Hill that inspired her the most. “Notions of utopia/dystopia.”
And so in 2012 Mandy left dentistry and took up a full-time career as an artist, developing her unique style, employing surprising materials. “I just carried on experimenting. Using micro tape to mask off areas, building up flat zones of colour and oil paints for fine detail. Sometimes then incising into the materials. Working from my sketchbook and photographs to develop something beautiful out of what most overlook. I wanted to work with materials that have a physical connection with the buildings I depict.”
Mandy’s work has taken her around the UK and seen many exhibitions and awards. I have seen individual examples of her work several times at different galleries and they have a fascinating quality. At first seeming photographic, but then on close (very close) inspection, the materials are visible, creating an almost three-dimensional quality to the works.
They are quite small, although Mandy told me that she is experimenting with larger and lighter glass fibre panels. She is also experimenting with work on marble – another nod to inequality in both building materials and social experience.
There is an opportunity to take a (very) close look at Mandy’s unique approach to art at the Saul Hay Gallery in Castlefield from 1st to 22nd of October. I for one will take that opportunity to try and fathom the complexity of the images and look at the layers of materials that are unique to Mandy Payne’s vision of Brutalist architecture.