Ardwick Still Life is the culmination of months of work by Steve Bewsher exploring what it means to him to be an artist. Featuring 42 new oil paintings, it is a collection of work of outstanding breadth of expression, exploring our impact on the City and capturing our transience as the City reinvents itself around us.
Manchester born and Macclesfield based Steve Bewsher is an oddity in today's Northern Art scene - he pushes the boundaries of his imagination and paints what he wants to paint, not what he is told to paint by commercial conventions. The result is work of supreme originality, but accompanied by considerable commercial success. Steve's previous exhibition with Gateway Gallery in 2015, Powerhouse, was a virtual sell-out, and since then he has continued to be the Gallery's best-selling artist.
After many years of painting traditional scenes and struggling to stand out from the crowd of competent but uninspired artists, Steve had an epiphany once he turned 50 and his children had grown up. He said that "I wanted to push myself. I didn't want to be that artist who turns out essentially the same painting for twenty years". And so, in 2014, Steve became "the man who paints rubble" - finding powerful art in subjects not normally a staple for
artists: demolition, construction sites, and semi-abstract compositions of buildings and cityscapes.
Four years on, the paintings contained in Ardwick Still Life are a culmination of Steve's journey as an artist, and coalesce around an important artistic principle, namely that art can be found in the most commonplace, but at the same time the most unusual, scenes. Just as Lowry broke ground by painting the unpaintable - such as his 1949 work The Cripples - so Steve finds beauty in unconventional subjects: recycling bins, discarded litter, construction sites. As a reminder to himself to pursue this vision in his art, Steve carries with him in his wallet a quotation from the renowned French artist and sculptor, Jean Dubuffet: "Real art,"
Dubuffet said, "is always lurking where you don't expect it, where nobody's thinking about it or mentions its name."
The story behind Ardwick Still Life began with Steve painting his characteristic scenes of construction and demolition, such as "CituNQ on Tib Street". It progressed to scenes representing the buzz of the City and the pace of its change, such as "Rush Hour in the City". These works explore the cycle of destruction and reconstruction, both of which must co-exist to create a vibrant and dynamic city. This vibrancy is explored in Steve's crowd scenes, such as "Figures in the City", which perfectly capture the momentary snapshot of confusion that can be found by turning suddenly onto the top of Market Street in Manchester and being faced with the throng of shoppers making their way up and down the street.
These crowd scenes prompted in Steve the realisation that he sees the City more as a visual assault on the senses than a series of set-piece scenes to be photographed in paint. Nowhere captured this more than the ongoing activity around Tib Street, where old Manchester meets new in a maelstrom of activity. The area became a rich source of inspiration, particularly the graffiti, flyers and posters around it. The layer upon layer of images, old and new, became a microcosm of the city and inspired images such as "24 Hour Party City" exploring the cacophony of colours and perspectives to be found in the ever-changing Manchester.
The inspiration for the title of this exhibition, and the final step on this artistic journey, came when Steve was walking through Ardwick in search of subject matter. He happened upon a discarded, burst-open shopping bag on a side street, with the used contents spilling onto the pavement, and, to paraphrase Dubuffet's cherished quotation, Steve was confronted with real art lurking where he did not expect it - a 21st century interpretation of the still life. A few days later the rubbish had been cleared up, leaving a human sized echo of the destruction and reconstruction which is such a feature of Steve's work, and a reminder of the transience of our impact on the world. This culminated in several paintings that surprised even Steve himself - a series of still lifes centred around the domestic recycling we all do at home, with the "Waste Not, Want Not" and "21st Century Still Life" diptychs demonstrating another of Dubuffet's maxims: "What I expect from my art is that it surprises me, that it violates my customary valuations of things and offers me other, unexpected ones".