Manc of the Month: Gerry Halpin

Gerry Halpin has done what many aspiring artists wish they had the guts to do – quit the day job and went all-in to become a professional artist. For that, we applaud you Gerry! The guts, and the hardwork, his amazing talent, beautiful paintings, and not to mention his incredible accolades, means that the title of the first Manc of the Month 2020 goes to artist Gerry Halpin!

Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself/your work to our readers.

Gerry Halpin: ‘In 1990 I popped into the Heads study and handed in my resignation. There is never an ideal time to pull away from enthusiastic students working towards exams but my role of Head of Art in a large Comprehensive school was compromising my painting and the time was right for me to become a full-time artist. I had one commission in hand and my fingers were crossed that I could take on this adventure and succeed. The early days meant that I had to paint whatever came along – most often watercolour landscapes – in order to make ends meet and I’m grateful for that opportunity of survival which in turn allowed me to continue and experiment in order to discover my own sense of artistic direction.’

CO: We are huge fans of your landscape pieces, and we have seen some in Saul Hay Gallery, can you tell us more about those?

GH: ‘Although I was painting in a traditional though loose watercolour style, a flight back from San Francisco made me aware of the world from above and the very different imagery that looking down on the world provided. After a number of light aircraft flights from Barton aerodrome, my friend piloting and me drawing, and many subsequent holiday flights, most recently to Australia again, I began to establish iconographic interpretations of the landscape below. The speed of flight meant that the drawing was not laboured and fine detail didn’t hamper my observations, rather it allowed me the freedom to interpret the absolute reality which was I saw below me.’

‘Back in the studio those drawings from the real world were the basis for my new landscape paintings which have most recently defined my major work and which, I’m pleased to say, have found acceptance from buyers and galleries ever since.’

‘Acrylic or oil paint are the only media I use in these paintings and especially acrylic with its quick drying property. I like to work fast and over paint and over layer, often applying the paint quite thickly, as well as drawing and scratching into the wet surface with all manner of implements that I’ve discovered to convey those marks that I see in the landscape.’

CO: Tell us what a day in the life of Gerry Halpin is like?

GH: ‘A fairly early start around 08.15 on most weekdays, occasional Saturdays, and can’t wait to begin working. My rented studio is a short journey from home so I can switch off at the end of the day, leaving around 6.00pm. Social media and emails I like to check first in case there is anything pressing for that day and then it’s straight into whichever painting I’m working on at the time. There is much considered thinking to be done, as well as the physical act of putting paint down, and this critical time is very valuable in maintaining a cohesive consistency to each painting. Not that that should be creatively limiting, rather it’s a chance to explore maybe new colour relationships, alternative compositional structures and most importantly, to reinforce my own sense of direction and artist development through each new painting.’

‘Visiting galleries to view exhibitions can be a part of my day and meeting gallery owners and clients is something I enjoy. Buying art books is irresistible for inspiration and my studio is well filled with wonderful volumes into which I frequently dip, which is almost like enjoying another artists’ solo exhibition. Cups of green tea throughout the day lubricate the mind and a Costa and toast suffice for lunch.’

CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene?

GH: ‘The city and surrounding area are becoming more and more exciting places to see art, whether collections in public galleries or ever-changing contemporary works in private galleries or even a mixture of both. There is a growing awareness of the contribution of the arts in the public domain and private gallery owners in particular are to be congratulated in promoting such an exciting and broad range of art that is exhibited in their galleries. Saul Hay Fine Art, who represents my painting in the city, work exceptionally hard to promote their artists amongst the city’s architects and interior designers. Clearly there is always a need for more openings for art to be shown because there are so many excellent practitioners in the north who are underrepresented. Let’s hope that the Northern Powerhouse concept and the recent affirmations by the new government to support the north more transparently might lead to further exhibiting opportunities for Manchesters’ creatives.’

CO: What advice would you give to other painters out there?

GH: ‘It is, I feel, a privilege to be regarded as an artist but it’s something which has to be worked at to achieve any success. It will take time to develop an individual style but always begin by painting what visually excites you. Through experimenting, find the medium which best allows you to explore and represent your ideas. Look at the work of other artists, understand their methods, be influenced by their results but importantly, try to find your own way of making an original contribution, thus moving art forward.’

CO: What has been your best/proudest moment of your career?

GH: ‘Undoubtedly being appointed MBE in the New Year Honours 2009 for contributions to Art and Charity. Being elected President of Manchester Academy of Fine Arts in 2015 was both an honour and a privilege, giving me an opportunity to make a contribution to the future development of a city art institution first founded in 1858 and still thriving with 123 elected Members.’

CO: They are some incredible achievements indeed! So, what are your plans for 2020?

GH: ‘To continue painting with as much enthusiasm as ever and to look forward to the exciting challenge of creating new work.’

CO: What is the best exhibition you have been to and why?

GH: ‘Although I’m essentially a landscape painter I do enjoy the discipline of Life Drawing and some of my paintings are figurative, including a number of commissioned works. The recent Tate Liverpool ‘Life In Motion’ exhibition featuring the photographs of the late Francesca Woodman shared with the paintings of Egon Schiele was a visual treat. The use of the figure to explore human angst in such an original and enigmatic form was both confrontational (as art at times ought to be) and challenging. To have the chance of engaging with a body of work of this quality was wonderfully inspiring.’

CO: And lastly, if you could live in any artwork/painting, which would it be and why?

GH: ‘I have been greatly inspired by a number of artists amongst whom I include Irvine, Rothko, Hilton, Heron and most especially Paul Cezanne. Each has brought something unique to my way of seeing and ultimately to my way of working. To have been one of Cezanne’s ‘Cardplayers’ would have placed me right there in his studio where I would have watched him paint, stroke by careful stroke, and dare I say, spoken to him. I’m tingling at the thought!!!’

The Card Players

Find out more about Gerry Halpin on his website, and read our previous Manc of the Month articles too.

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