Visions of genius... shape of the world revealed by the artists who inspired us

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Pete McKee

When I’m ever asked which artist inspired me, I roll off a list as long as my arm, starting with Beano artist and creator of the Bash street kids, Leo Baxendale. Then there’s Reg Smythe creator of Andy Capp, tabloid cartoonist Sax and the animator Tex Avery. Not to mention the proper artists such as Patrick Caulfield, Edward Hopper, Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, Manet and  I can’t miss out Sheffield’s own Joe Scarborough.

I could go on, but the artist I’ve chosen goes to the top of the list because earlier this year I made a 300-mile pilgrimage to visit his home town and museum created in his honour, so I guess I must really find this guy inspirational.

I’m talking about Hergé, the artist responsible for Tin Tin. He is totally to blame for kick starting my painting career. For the previous 15 years I’d been working as a freelance cartoonist making a modest income, supplemented by part time work.

I was going nowhere very slowly and needed a change of direction if I was to avoid joining the real world and getting a proper job.
I believed that being an artist that paints as opposed to an artist that draws cartoons was the way to go, so it seems perverse that I would turn to a cartoonist as my inspiration.

The reason lies on the first panel of the Tin Tin adventure Land of Black Gold with its unassuming image of a petrol pump stood quietly by itself. I remember looking at this beautifully simple image and thinking that would look great as an image on my wall and I realised this was a starting point for my own painting style, clean lines and understated pastel tones.

Obviously that’s not the only reason I love Hergé. There are three rules to great art and Hergé uses them all – composition, composition and composition. He takes you into Tin Tin’s world and makes you feel like a silent observer by the use of clever, effortless penmanship.

I say effortless, but clearly there’s a great deal of hard work and pain that goes into his drawings, he just makes it look effortless. The story isn’t spoilt by bad drawing, you don’t notice it’s there, he just leaves you feeling a part of Tin Tin’s World.

Sheffield’s Pete Mckee’s iconic cartoon style has won him an international fanbase. He has also designed tour posters for Oasis, Noel Gallagher and won commisions from the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Richard Hawley and fashion designer Paul Smith.

Ashley Jackson

Joseph Mallard Turner has been my inspiration since the age of 14, not only has he inspired me but he is, to my mind, the master of all landscape art. Turner’s skills in painting were unbelievable, he was always fascinated with light and I have learnt to chase light in my own works. 

What makes Turner so special is his watercolours have the passion of the man in them as well as the atmosphere of the landscape.

He was born in Covent Garden in 1775 on St George’s Day – sharing his birthday with Shakespeare – and he lived above his father’s barber shop.

I have always admired his skill not only in oil painting but in watercolour. His great friend Thomas Girtin, whom he admired greatly, died when he was in his early 20s and Turner later wrote that, “had Girtin lived I would have starved.”

Turner was no stranger to Yorkshire having travelled here on his grand tour of the north of England during which he created more than a hundred sketches and watercolours of Leeds and the surrounding area, before heading up to the Dales and places like Conisb rough and Wakefield. He travelled by horse and coach, a luxury in those days, and took everything the elements could throw at him.

For many years I knew Turner had in his sketchbooks risqué drawings done on his tours, drawings which show his skills of observation and understanding of the human body. 

His friend John Ruskin knew about these sketchbooks and when Turner bequeathed all his works to the nation, including these books, Ruskin tried to burn them to try to keep the good name of Turner. Thankfully, they survived and you can see them in Ian Warrell’s book Turner’s Secret Sketches, published by the Tate.

I have often thought how is it that we erect statues and sculptures of celebrities who are still alive and yet Turner, with all his skill, the first true Impressionist, has never had one built of him to this day.

Based in Holmfirth, Ashley Jackson’s distinctive paintings of brooding moorlands have become synonymous with Yorkshire, and more particular the moors above and around his gallery.

Graham Ibbeson

I first came across George Fullard’s sculpture in an exhibition at the Royal Academy in the mid-1970s, when I was still a student. His narrative work not only impressed but had references to his own childhood while radiating a sense of play, thus giving me all the incentive I needed to walk an individual path. 

The inventiveness, almost naive quality of the work, belied the real pain and trauma that was ever present in his work – reflecting a childhood in the streets of a blitzed northern city, to being badly wounded in a Second World War battlefield.

Born in Sheffield in 1923, Fullard was a generation older than me. He attended art school in Sheffield before enlisting and going to war in 1940. He survived (only just) and later went on to the Royal College of Art (RCA). His sculptural work falls into two categories that run parallel, both paying homage to Picasso.

The modelled work shows an intimacy of touch. The clay being pulled around, beaten and caressed in equal measure to give a tactile and sensitive portrayal of humanity.

I prefer his assemblage work though. Here Fullard really comes into his own. His approach is instinctive, his imag ination soars. In the piece Death of Glory (1963-64) a kitchen table becomes a war horse dying on some obscure battlefield of his imagination.

The piece is uncomplicated, accessible but very disturbing. Fullard has used familiar objects to draw the viewer in and this visual language makes for a very uncomfortable read.

Inspired by Fullard I have used accessibility in my own work as a device to try and weave a narrative that is multi-layered, with a truth that is very personal.

Based in Barnsley, Graham Ibbeson is best-known for his bronze sculptures, most notably Eric Morecambe, Dickie Bird and most recently Don Revie.

Jake Attree

Who is your favourite artist of all time?” is a question that most artists would find all but impossible to answer. All the artists I know have four or five absolute core artists who influence and inspire them and the “favourite” will vary from month to month. 

That is certainly the case with me. Four artists are of seminal importance to me – Paul Cezanne, John Constable, Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent Van Gogh. So, in order to answer, I need to ask myself which of these four did I discover first and fall in love with? The answer to that question is John Constable. I was 14, or 15, when I discovered Constable in a weekly educational magazine called Knowledge.

The reproductions I saw reminded me so powerfully of the landscape around York where I was born that I decided then that painting was what I was going to do with my life. 

On Sunday walks with my father, we would explore the Ings at Fulford, or go further along the River Ouse to the locks at Naburn. The look of that flat landscape, its light-drenched water meadows, is all mixed up in my memory with the early introduction to Constable’s paintings of Suffolk.

Certain quarters of art education through the late 1960s and early 70s viewed the likes of Constable as an anachronism. I never apologised for my obsession but was later encouraged to find out that Lucien Freud held him in the very highest regard. Constable famously said of his native Suffolk “those scenes made me a painter and I am grateful.” Similarly, for me, those early experiences gained on the banks of the Ouse left a profound impression, as did the example of the four great painters I have mentioned above (among many others). I am grateful to them all, but particularly John Constable.

With a studio at Dean Clough in Halifax, over the last 25 years, Jake Attree has exhibited widely in the UK, America, Holland and Germany.

Dudley Edwards

The artists of the High Renaissance applied linear perspective with all lines converging at the vanishing point on the horizon, imitating nature, creating the illusion of depth on the canvas.

The picture frame was treated like a window to look into or through. However, from the late 19th-century onwards, painters began to question the validity of such representation. Shouldn’t we remain true to the two dimensional surface, and the materials we use? Falsehood consists in taking the false as being true, that is, in considering something to be other than what in itself it really is – paint on canvas. Many great painters were instrumental in this evolution from illusion to reality. None more so than Henri Matisse, whose total output embodied this transition and in the process revealed so many ways to resolve this dichotomy of flatness and depth, push and pull.

With Matisse the picture frame is no longer a window, but a demarcation of a sacred space defining the arena in which the spectator’s eye will be taken on a journey or dance, sometimes rhythmically and smoothly as in a waltz, other times faltering staccato like in a tango. The viewer becomes actively engaged. He kept depth to a minimum with his cut-out figures interlacing like Celtic knot work.

His lines were sensual and erotic. His colours bold. His procurement of Islamic arabesques was never decorative instead they have a current which flowed where a surface needed to be animated and often suggested infinite repetition beyond the confines of the canvas. Reducing the fictitious depth to the material surface could easily be misconstrued as trickery, but with Matisse there is a sophisticated dialogue between the disparate elements. His work demands that we look, and look again.

Back in the 1960s Dudley Edwards was one of the UK’s leading Pop artists, famously painting Sir Paul McCartney’s psychedelic piano. Now, along with his wife Madeleine, he designs bespoke rugs and wall hangings.

Doug Binder

The painter Matisse remarked that “Cezanne was the father of us all.”  Paul Cezanne laid the foundations of modern painting, although he treated much of what was to follow with scepticism believing himself to be misunderstood. 

What might he make of some of the extravagances of the show business we witness today, I wonder? My own introduction to Cezanne came about through an evening lecture delivered on the commercial design course at Bradford College of Art as a 16-year-old student  back in the late 1950s. It enthused me enough to want to paint. 

For the first time I realised that painting would be a serious endeavour and should not be treated as a hobby or pastime and in following Cezanne’s example would mean dedicating myself to years of hard work and necessary failures. Looking at Cezanne’s paintings today reminds me of the promises I made to myself to try to make a successful painting – to resolve those problems that inevitably occur through the process of painting. Looking at Cezanne I initially feel my spirits uplifted followed by a deep and satisfying sense of calm.  The subtle harmony in his compositional structures, the balance between form and colour lead to a feeling of tranquillity. A representation of order and permanence, together with a classical timelessness lit by a colour and universal luminosity generated by the painting itself is found throughout his work.

Cezanne wanted to overthrow what he saw as the illusion of naturalism in the works of the impressionists by what he described as re-creating Poussin from nature. Cezanne’s painting methods are difficult to understand and he left no theories, but I don’t think we necessarily need to grasp how he managed to make his paintings,

I believe we can instinctively feel their truth and beauty. We just have to look.

Doug Binder is a contemporary of his fellow Bradfordian David Hockney, specialising in oil painting he is lauded as ‘Britain’s master of colour’.