Manc of the Month: Jen Orpin

We were pretty chufted when we saw our fellow Mancunian Jen Orpin on Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year, and we knew we had found our next Manc of the Month. We’ve been following Jen for a while and we have already re-posted three of Jen’s images on our Instagram, the first one being back on February. We are huge fans of her landscapes that explore the urban and industrial parts of a our city, looking at concrete, backstreets, motorways and even skips. Jen’s work truly encompasses the idea of modern landscape and forces us to look at things in a totally different way. What was mundane is now the focal point, bringing beauty and grandeur to everyday objects and scenes.

So read on to find out more about Jen, her studio space, and which artists she’s like to meet down at the pub.

Cotton On: How would you describe your work?

Jen Orpin: ‘I am a contemporary landscape painter. My work varies in style and content. I can be as inspired by an urban scene as open countryside. In the last two years I’ve produced work inspired by the west highlands of Scotland, the run down areas of Gorton in Manchester (where my new studios are located) and the Manchester skyline. I’m currently painting empty motorway landscapes and bridges. I like to continually challenge the way I paint, and different subject matter often forces a change in style. I’m curious to see how a new landscape will stretch me as a painter. If you’re not growing, you’re standing still, right?’

CO: Amen to that! So, what are your current goals?

JO: ‘My current goal is the same as it’s always been, to get better. Being able to be in my studio five days a week has changed everything for me. It wasn’t always the case and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to remain full time so I never take it for granted; I know how lucky I am and I don’t want to waste a minute not painting.’

CO: How would you describe your studio space and they way you work in it?

JO: ‘I’ve been part of Rogue Artists studios since 2000. I feel so lucky to be part of such a fantastic group; they’re my painting family. Last year we moved in to an old Victorian school in Openshaw. It’s vast: full of character and has masses of potential. My space is half of a huge classroom on the first floor (complete with original built in roll down blackboard). It’s a big space with a wood floor, high ceiling and most importantly huge windows. I have my own a sink, kettle and mini fridge, microwave, sofa and heaters – a lot of heaters. Until we figure the heating out, the building feels blooming arctic.’

CO: You recently featured on Landscape artist of the Year. How was that experience?

JO: ‘My partner and me are massive fans of the show and every year she pesters me to apply. The thought has always filled me with dread – so I haven’t. But this year has been all about pushing myself and stepping outside of my comfort zone so I went for it although I didn’t think for a second I’d be accepted. Then three weeks later I got the call inviting me on the show as a contestant. I barely slept leading up to the heat, I was so nervous. Once I started painting I quickly settled down and actually really enjoyed the whole day. Everyone was lovely and the judges were brilliant. I was chuffed to get on never mind make it into the judge’s top three. It far exceeded my expectations and I’ve had loads of positive comments, new followers on social media and inquiries for commissions as a result.’

CO: Our favourite piece of your work is ‘Neapolitan’. Can you tell us more about that?

JO: ‘Neapolitan is part of a body of work I painted in response to Rogue’s move to Gorton. I’d never really been there before and there was a certain amount of trepidation about moving out of the city. Once we arrived I wanted to get know the area – my new creative home. I went out exploring, took photos and chatted to people living there. I found the grit and decay I was expecting but also aspects of real beauty, colour and intrigue – including a giant strawberry ice cream coloured warehouse dominating a gray industrial estate – the inspiration for Neopolitan.’

CO: Do you have a favourite piece of work/one you are most proud of?

JO: ‘I made a painting at the beginning of the year I called #NoFilter. It’s a representation of the streetlight alley down the side of Gorton train station. It’s dark and dramatic and looks like a film set waiting for someone to shout ‘ACTION’. I was really pleased with it but I didn’t realise at the time what an impact it would have on my practice. It made the Jacksons Open Painting Prize long list and it was the submission piece selected by Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year. It’s been shown in several galleries since. I’ve had a lot of love for this painting.’

CO: What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

JO: ‘Apart from the usual financial stresses – I often wonder why I’m doing it, and am I any good? A few years ago I experienced a proper painting block; I was totally stuck. After panicking for several weeks, trying to force the issue I just stopped trying and took a break from painting, I picked up my pencils and started drawing. It was actually great discipline and I really enjoyed it. It was the best thing I could’ve done. Re-visiting a classic tool of the trade brought me right back round to painting again. Hitting an inspirational wall is daunting but all part of the job. Instead of fighting, press pause, change direction and keep the faith!’

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

JO: ‘Manchester’s narrow city limits mean that if there are a few things happening on the same night you’ve got a fair chance of getting to all of them. Having said that there are so many new smaller, artist-run galleries/studios that pretty soon won’t be the case! I feel a part of Manchester’s art scene, which is massive to me – painting is a sole enterprise and can be fairly isolating. The art scene provides a sense of belonging and community for those artists, like me who work alone and might not otherwise have. It’s thriving and exciting up north and I’m proud of it.’

CO: What do you love, and what do you hate about Manchester?

JO: ‘I moved here from the south to do my degree in Fine Art in 1993 and I never left – that speaks for itself I think. There’s so much to love and really, I can’t think of anything to hate.’

CO: If you could have a chat with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

JO: ‘I’d like a night down the pub with Paula Rego, Maggie Hambling, Louise Bourgois and and Annie Leibevitz. The stories these women could tell!’

CO: What’s next? Do you have any new projects, or any exhibitions coming up?

JO: ‘I’m not sure what the New Year holds yet. I hope to continue to be represented by Saul Hay Fine Art and to keep pushing myself to new levels and hopefully keep putting the paintings out there.’

CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be?

JO: ‘Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. It’s just stunning.’

Check out more of Jen Orpin‘s work on her website.

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