Meet the indie rocker turned artist who has opened his own gallery in Haworth
It was disappointing that just four weeks later they had to close as the UK went into another national lockdown, but this month, as restrictions begin to ease again, they are looking forward to reopening.
For both of them Haworth has long been a favourite place. “All our family have always loved Haworth,” says Abrahams.
“The main street with all the cobblestones is like stepping back in time.” The gallery is housed in a building, halfway down the cobble-stoned main street, that dates back to 1881. Originally built as a butcher’s shop with accommodation for the butcher and his family, it continued as a butcher’s until the mid-1960s and has at various times since then been a gift shop and a gallery.
“When it came up for sale we thought ‘let’s just go for it’. My sister had always wanted a shop in Haworth and I thought a gallery to showcase my work would be great.”
Born in Bradford in 1977, Abrahams came to art relatively late, at the age of 32 when his girlfriend bought him his first set of paints, and he is entirely self-taught.
Using oils on board, he creates evocative, vividly coloured images of sweeping landscapes and dramatic skies; themes of childhood and memory recur in his work, imbuing his paintings with a warm feeling of nostalgia.
“I grew up in the 1980s and I am of that generation that used to play outside all the time. You would get up at eight in the morning, go out on your bike and not come back until teatime.
"The world has changed so much since then, so this is nostalgic artwork and it speaks mostly to people of my age or older, but I think each of my paintings will mean something to somebody.”
Now based in Brighouse, near Halifax, where he moved three years ago, Abrahams grew up and lived for 40 years in the Wibsey area of Bradford. At school, art was not really on his radar.
“I didn’t study it at school, I was always more interested in football,” he says. “And as a teenager I just wanted to be a footballer.” After leaving school he went into the building trade and another passion replaced football – music. An accomplished musician, he played guitar and wrote songs for indie rock band the Hoover Dams.
They enjoyed a modicum of success, playing at venues around the UK, appearing on the radio and in 2007 they took part in the C4 show Get Your Act Together hosted by legendary concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith – and touring and performing took up pretty much all his spare time.
“I would be working Monday to Friday on building sites and then gigging at the weekends. We had great fun – we had a lot of local support and we really enjoyed playing live. Then you get to a certain point when you realise you are not going to make it.”
The decision was made to wind up the band, and that left Abrahams with time on his hands. “I didn’t have anything to do at the weekends; I was bored and needed something to do. I have always enjoyed looking at art. Although I didn’t really know anything about it, I was interested in it.”
The gift of paints from his girlfriend set him off on a creative journey. “When I started painting, I didn’t even know the difference between acrylics and oils. I swotted up on art by watching videos and reading books, which was useful, but then one day I thought ‘you need to just do it yourself’.” He began experimenting with different approaches and materials, gradually developing his own unique style.
“Every time I did a painting it got a little bit better and every time, even now, I see something I can improve, so I just keep on learning. I’ve learnt to be a bit looser while still using all the techniques, to take a step back and not overthink things. Painting is quite instinctive for me. It is a bit like driving a car – you wouldn’t be able to do it if you thought too much about it. I just put my music on, get my brushes out and start.”
Abrahams has been painting for 10 years now and around seven years ago, he gave up his day job to paint full-time. “One of the reasons I decided to make a go of it was that I lost my younger sister. She was just 30 when she died. That was a real turning point for me; realising that life is too short. It spurred me on to do something with my life. I thought ‘what have I got to lose?’ and it was the best decision I ever made.”
His work celebrates the simple pleasures of life such as kite-flying, bike-riding, walking in the rain with someone you love, striding out across moorland, going to the football on a Saturday. It also chronicles the lives of ordinary people – there is a series entitled “working-class heroes”, which in content and form recalls some of the images created by LS Lowry, an artist Abrahams admires.
“When I first started, I really liked the simplicity of Lowry’s work. He is not the greatest painter of all time but his work speaks to people. He was ridiculed at first but people eventually came round to loving his work. I think if you stick with what you are good at and paint what you love, people see that love in your work. Every time I paint, I try and make it heartfelt.”
People respond to that authenticity and Abrahams has an ever-growing fanbase, with his work displayed and on sale in galleries around the country.
“My work connects with people and they feel like they know me,” he says. “When I put people in my paintings, I always paint them from the back, so that the viewer can put themselves into the painting.” It is a technique that enables him to forge a bond with his audience, literally drawing them into the image and allowing them to identify with the scene he is depicting.
“I get lots of really nice emails and messages about what my work means to people, that it reminds them of someone or something, or of a time or place. That inspires me and keeps me painting.”
His creativity is sparked by many things, he says, including childhood memories, films, his travels with the Hoover Dams, but especially the natural world and the beauty of the Yorkshire landscape.
Haworth has been a particular inspiration and the town and its surroundings feature in several of his works. “It is a place that feels a bit untouched by time which is perfect for an artist,” he says.
“The paintings I have done of Haworth look like they could have been painted 100 years ago or when the Brontës were around.”
The past year in lockdown has been positive for Abrahams in terms of his creative output and focus. “I have been really productive, actually,” he says.
“When you work for yourself and you don’t have a boss telling you what to do, you have got to keep motivated but being an artist is such a great job. Being able to do this as a living, getting up in the morning and creating something that someone is hopefully going to love – that is so inspiring and so fulfilling.”
Abrahams Gallery, on Main Street, Howarth, reopens on Monday. Danny Abrahams’ work can be viewed and purchased at the gallery and via his website www.dannyabrahamsart.com