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24 September 2014
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Liam Spencer
In his studio: Liam Spencer

Interview: Liam Spencer

Liam Spencer is one of the rising stars of the British contemporary arts scene, renowned for his vivid portrayals of the urban landscape around Manchester. We find out what makes him tick as an artist in this web Q & A.


Liam Spencer

  • Born 1964 in Burnley
  • Studied for a Fine Art degree at Manchester Poly, graduated 1986.
  • The Mancunian Way exhibitions in 1997/98 did much to establish Spencer's reputation.
  • Invited to stage first solo exhibition of contemporary art, Urban Panoramas, at the new Lowry Centre in Salford in 2000.
  • Has exhibited across the UK including Manchester, London and Oxford

Q. What made you want to become an artist - and when did you first pick up a paintbrush?

Liam - I can't remember when I first picked up a paintbrush - I was probably too young. I became an artist by a process of eliminating all the things I didn't want to do, and the things I did want to do but couldn't ie. be a North American Indian (in Burnley), footballer (not good enough), full time fisherman (poor career prospects).

Q. What attracted you to painting landscapes?

Liam - I quickly discovered that I wasn't really interested in making non representational art, and I couldn't work easily from memory and imagination, so I turned quite naturally to the subject matter that was under my nose, the urban landscape where I lived, studied and worked. 

Q. How would you describe your style of painting?

Liam Spencer - photo by Craig Stennett
Spencer: loves the urban landscape

I suppose I think of myself as being closest to the Impressionist artists, especially early in the movement when artists like Monet were dealing with the rapidly changing modern world. I paint fairly broadly, with big brushes, and I'm trying to convey how we might see the world at a glance - the big impressions - not how we see the world when we stare at it and count the number of trees, or register the minutiae of the scene.

Q. Which artists have been an influence on your work?

I've been influenced by many artists at different times and for different reasons. A short list would have to include Frank Auerbach, Ivon Hitchens, Gwen John, Winifred Nicholson, Monet, Marquet, Matisse, Bonnard, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Bomberg, Morandi, and most of all Vermeer. I've surprised myself by how many English artists are in that list.

Q. Why do you find urban landscapes so fascinating?  What visual images excite you most?

I suppose the fact that most of us live and work in the urban landscape leads me to believe that it should be the subject for painting. It might be tempting to think that landscape painting should take place in the countryside? I suppose I get added satisfaction from finding beauty in unexpected places. It's also the landscape that I know best, and see on a continuous basis. I think I'm always drawn to light and colour, wherever I find it.

How do you start building up your paintings?  Do you do sketches?  Do you prefer to work outside or in the studio?

" I get added satisfaction from finding beauty in unexpected places... I think I'm always drawn to light and colour, wherever I find it."
Liam Spencer

I used to do all my paintings directly from observation, but in recent years I've worked increasingly from photographs. I always have a camera with me, and often "snatch" subjects in an opportunistic way, on the hoof. I take loads of shots, and then sift through them looking for likely painting material. Working outside always has a nice immediacy, and it's something I'd like to do more of again.

Q. How would you respond to anyone who called you a 'Mancunian artist'?

I seem to have become an honorary Mancunian by adoption or association, but I'm not a Mancunian, just a long stay visitor.

Q. What inspires you about your home town of Burnley?

Liam Spencer taking photographs
Liam captures the moment

I didn't take much notice of my surroundings when I grew up in Burnley. Now when I go back there, I'm struck by how quickly you can be in the beautiful landscapes which surround it. I like the moors and the ever changing light, and I've also made paintings of Turf Moor, the home of Burnley Football Club - I particularly like night matches.

Q. What are your plans for the future?  Will you continue to live and work in Greater Manchester?  Will you work abroad?

I enjoy travelling and I've made paintings of New York and London recently. There's also a visit to Hong Kong in the pipeline. Sometimes, trips away help me to see my immediate surroundings in a different light. I think I'll continue to draw inspiration from the urban landscapes of the North West of England where I was born, and where I live and work.

Q. How easy or hard is it for an artist with international aspirations to be based in Manchester?

I don't think being in Manchester is a handicap. I think it's seen as a pretty vibrant place by people outside of this country. I don't know whether it would be easier being based in a major city like London or New York, I've never tried it!

last updated: 09/06/05
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