Manc of the Month: Oliver East

I pass this artist’s work on my daily commute. Peering over the ledge whilst the tram stops at Cornbrook, within the grubby, dirty, rough surroundings of the scrap heap, I spot these brightly painted, disused doors. They are green and pink, looking fresh and bold, standing out against the bleak landscape. Love it!

Whilst I check out who’s exhibiting at PS Mirabel’s ‘What are you doing in there?‘ I come across artist Oliver East, I check out his website and the penny drops! It’s his work I see every morning!

So, find out what drew him to creating work there, find out how the exhibition is going and how he managed to work with Elbow in our new Manc of the Month interview below.

Cotton On Mcr: How would you describe your work?

Oliver East: ‘Independent public art. Sudden sculpture. Impromptu illustration. Barely planned and executed in a wanton way.’

‘Picton Street’

CO: We are big fans of your sculpture work, the paintings on found objects, can you tell us more about that?

OE: ‘Thanks. It started off as a way to illuminate the rubbish issue that collectively we’ve become blind to. By painting fly-tipped material bright colours I was making it harder to ignore. I always paint the stuff where I find it. By spending hours at a site, waiting between coats of paint or planning a design, I deliberately engage with the public in ways that sanctioned public art cannot. Because I’m painting crap left behind, I’m not engaged in an illegal act, but people are intrigued by someone acting in such a manner in public during the day. I have conversations with passers-by, residents and police, that more readily reveal the spirit of a place and our relationships with neglected space. For a while I was using recycled paint as well. Sometimes I will have seen a site a few days before getting a chance to work it, so I will have time to ruminate on a design. Other times I will just head out with a bag of paint and see what occurs. I sometimes return to works to alter them until the materials are taken away. On occasion it’s obvious an unseen collaborator has molested the pieces in some way and so, in rearranging them, it becomes an antagonistic conversation with some other Mancunian.’

CO: The work I see at Cornbrook station, this area is particularly grubby. What drew you to creating work there?

OE: ‘Footfall. Or tram-fall at least. All them commuter eyes drawn to that dead end, it’s the perfect spot. I need to go back and do something else there soon. That piece has had it’s day. When I was making that, two guys from the scrap dealers next door asked if I was Banksy. The colours of that work reflected the buddleia around it.’

CO: You say on your website that you ‘create long walks with arbitrarily imposed restrictions on yourself’ . Can you give us examples of these restrictions and how lease lend themselves to helping you create work?

OE: ‘My history is in comics, specifically comics about landscape and walking. In one of my early comics, ‘Trains Are Mint’, I walked from Manchester to Blackpool, with the proviso that I keep as close to the train tracks as possible without trespassing. This way the choice of where I find myself was taken out of my hands and I could meditate on the walk. Ignoring the law of diminishing returns, I repeated this process whilst walking to Liverpool, and from Berlin to the Polish border, Helsinki to Tampere, Toronto to Niagara Falls and Cluj to the Hungarian Border. I need rules and restrictions in place to create work. Whether these be directions on a walk, or the rigidity of a comics grid; rules make for better art.’

CO: You’ve also worked with the band Elbow, how did that come about?

OE: ‘Garvey likes a drink and I worked in a bar.’

CO: Hahahaha! Nice!

OE: ‘I worked in The Temple for years and one day after recording ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ in Salford, Guy and Pete from the band where in The Temple, wondering aloud what they should do about the album sleeve. I asked if I could do it and they said “err…yeah?”’

‘Guy knew my comics work and I was working on one at the time, ‘Proper Go Well High’, about my walk to Liverpool. In it there was an illustration of the back of Piccadilly Station, by the cab rank, that he liked. He asked if he could have that for the album and I said no, it’s for my book. But I would do them a new version.’

‘I did two campaigns in the end for Elbow. Two album covers and inners, singles, an animated video. I rinsed my guest list privileges for years past my allowance. Very proud of that work. I introduced my nine-year-old son to the joys of Fopp, Vinyl Exchange and Piccadilly records last week. We spotted ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ on vinyl – “and what is this over HERE?” – yeah man, he thinks I’m cool as fuck.’

‘Collier Street’

CO: Tell us more about the current exhibition at PS Mirabel ‘What are you doing in there?’

OE: ‘I’m showing photographic prints of nine of my public works and a brand-new piece in the yard outside. This is the first piece I’ve made for a gallery setting but I’ve stuck to the same methodology as I would do in the street. I used material I found in and outside the gallery, arrived without a plan and worked quickly. I was chuffed to bits to find a Christmas tree on the street outside. There is a narrative link to a previous piece made on Wall Street in Salford. I had to laugh as on the opening night more and more bikes where being parked and chained up in front of it. Like my public work its life will be short as it will decay quickly, mainly due to the weather.’

CO: What would you say is the highlight of your career so far?

OE: ‘Elbow kept me out of bar work for six years, which was nice of them, but the work I’m most proud of is walking from Helsinki to Tampere, drawing constantly. Not stopping to steady my pad nor waiting for something ‘interesting’ to draw. I produced 820 new drawings that way and I’m currently working them up into a new comic work. It was a risky experiment that paid off handsomely.’

CO: What has been your biggest challenge in your career?

OE: ‘Anxiety and a chronic lack of confidence.’

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

OE: ‘Not a patch on Salford’s.’

‘I’m not really involved in any aspect of the scene really. I should try harder but there’s comics to be made. I don’t have the time, will or social skills to make the most of it. I’ve only ever lived in Manchester, so I haven’t got much to compare it to but we’re blessed with The Castlefield Gallery and I’m always exited to see what people are doing. I think the link The Castlefield has built up with MMU and seeing what the fine artist scamps from there are brewing up is always fun.’

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

OE: ‘I’m studying at the moment for a masters, so there’s milestones to meet for that. There are a few different threads emerging from my public work that are worth exploring, so I’m pressing on with impromptu public art. I’ve a residency coming up in Toronto in April, working with a fine artist on a (currently secret) project. Plugging away at a comic about walking in Finland. You know? All the money makers.’

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

OE: ‘Shedboatshed (mobile architecture no2) by Simon Starling’


‘What are you doing in there?’ is on at PS Mirabel till 9th February.

Find out more about Oliver East on his website. And check out our previous Manc of the Month interviews here.

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