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The Rewards of Cruelty by Livingston and Morris
'The Rewards of Cruelty'

Tears of a clown!

Three Hebden Bridge artists have been looking at the world we live in today through the eyes of clowns. War, religion and the folly of man are the subjects of a new exhibition, The Clown’s Progress, at the Hebden Mill ArtsMill.

The new exhibition features the work artists  David Wright, Andrew Livingston and George Morris.

This is not the first series of paintings by David Wright to feature clowns. He does not see them as figures of fun: "Clowns are clumsy and oafish, and yet fragile. They appear to care about things on the one hand and on the other are roaring monsters, who don't give a damn about anyone."

The Juggler by David Wright
David Wright's The Juggler

Andrew Livingston explains how his own work was inspired by David's clown paintings: "We'd been thinking for a long time about doing some quite political paintings using the circus as a vehicle. When we saw those 'clown' paintings of David's, they rekindled our interest in developing this theme."

George Morris adds: "They are seen as funny and entertaining, but masks and grease paint can hide dark and violent acts."

Unusually Livingston and Morris work together. They are already well known in Hebden Bridge for their sculptural works. Couch Potatoes and If Pigs Could Fly They Wouldn't Need Ladders both featured in the annual Hardcastle Crags Sculpture Trails.

Livingston and Morris are both refugees from the world of theatre. We caught up with Andrew Livingston and asked him why he has turned to art.

Actor turned artist!

Born in Carlisle Andrew has lived in West Yorkshire for most of his life. He went on from school to art college but then fell for the call of the footlights, appearing in many theatre, television and film productions. Dinner Ladies, London's Burning and the film Full Monty are just some of the things you might have spotted him in.

It was while he was working with the Hull Truck Theatre Company that he met George Morris who was then working as a lighting designer. Eventually they both became disillusioned with the theatre.

Andrew Livingston with Steve Coogan
Andrew, shown here on TV with Steve Coogan!

Andrew explains:  "It's one of those things. They say theatre is in the blood but I don't think that's true. It's a world from which, if you are not infected by it, you have to get out because that's the only vaccine from it. You know people can't change other people's lives because of the way they behave so you've got to change the way you are and that's what I had to do. I had to get out because it was making me into what I saw as a bad person. I was in it for 20 years and it was gradually grinding me down. It was getting worse and worse and then it started being a celebrity culture.

"I kind of got swept up by it all and everything seemed good at first, I kind of enjoyed the lifestyle, I enjoyed the people but I was kind of naïve. I don't want to sound like Mr Up North but I'd never been to London for instance and my first job was there. It was like a wonderland."

Now he finds peace in Hebden Bridge: "Hebden Bridge is a great place to be because there's a great sense of being when you arrive. When I've been away and I come back to Hebden Bridge itself the actual borders of the place feel peaceful and that's what attracted me to it. It's a strange but nice thing."

"Great minds think alike..."

Andrew doesn't think the way he works together on the same paintings with George is all that unusual: "It's just something that seemed logical. We are both working together today and we've been showing each other drawings we've been swapping over to work on that will become paintings. It's just a process we've developed and it seems to work really well and the biggest question we get asked now at openings is, 'Who painted which bit?'

"We think it's great minds thinking alike. We've both got no ego which is quite remarkable so there's no contest at all about what gets painted and what gets deleted. It's a joint decision. We don't paint together. We actually swap the paintings around. When I've done a bit of the painting I'll take it up to George's house and he'll work on it from there.We can both be unhappy with things, we can both move things. It's really smooth like that."

Detail from painting by Morris/Livingston
But what is this clown smiling at?

Music has also been an important part of their work together. An earlier exhibition in Hebden Bridge featured paintings "inspired by the music of Frank Zappa."  Andrew says: "We tend to listen to the same kind of music. It's just a background filler sometimes but there's a great deal of music that does influence what we do." As well as Zappa both artists enjoy Pearl Jam and early music.

What next? Both artists are working towards an exhibition in Leeds which they expect to be much more irreverent. But, despite this, they believe art should be challenging.

In the meantime they hope The Clown's Progress will show there's more to a smile than many people think: "We come from a very humorous base as well, George and I, and we like to think we can make people smile a bit as well. We get bludgeoned to death with spin these days about things going well and I don't think that's the case and I think that's reflected in the smile as well, the falseness of things.

"We just hope we've planted a seed because that's all we can do. We can protest and protest but I don't think you get anywhere these days with that kind of thing. We can only do what we can do, and if we can make people think differently even for a nanosecond. That's a good thing, I think."

[The Clown's Progress is at the ArtsMill Gallery in Hebden Bridge until 18 June 2006. 'Phone 01422 843413]

last updated: 26/05/06
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