Our featured artist this month is Claire Riley, whose pathway into embracing technology in her art has enabled an abstract take on some of this region’s sights and scenes, pouring vibrant colour into the raindrops, waterways, side streets and landmarks of the city and surrounding area.

Riley tells us about her style, influences and the inspiration of Greater Manchester’s settings, and hints at a follow-up to last year’s Northern Light exhibition.

When do you first remember making art and how has your style developed?

I have always been daubing and making things for as long as I can remember. I often got into creating things to get around a deficit of some sort. This would involve designing and making things to wear, as well as creating an environment in which to work. I studied Fine Art, but I have always known that my creativity is a bi-product of my life. An expression of a tension or as said deficit of some sort. When I have been able to devote myself entirely to creative enterprises, I often find I falter or lose motivation. I also return time and time again to the idea of art for a purpose to be useful in some way.

My style has changed through use of different media. I have been engaged in various creative projects from textile design to sculpture. This recent phase though has been the most focussed and productive. The need to record and engage people with place seems to have a purpose.

Are there any other artists whose work has influenced you?

I am influenced by lots of artists, probably as many as the many stages of my own art. I love dada and some surrealist or magical artists like Chagall. Recently, in this current phase, I felt was given permission, as I saw it, to start using electronic tools to create with, after having by chance seen David Hockney using an iPad. This seemed to suddenly energise me and I became aware and observant about my surroundings in a way that I hadn’t been for many years.

What was it about Greater Manchester’s landmarks and scenery that prompted you to focus on elements of the city and region? What motivates you to do this?

I was brought up in Manchester and have repeatedly departed and returned to the area, most recently in 2008. I now live quite centrally in Manchester. My northern roots are fundamental to my way of seeing. Also, though I work as an emergency duty social worker, which takes me into many unusual settings, I also used to work from an office, which was in a tower block in Gorton, so I would watch dusks and dawns over the Manchester skyline and watched it changing. You get to see a melancholy and often bleached view of the world at night and I started to focus on trying to capture that emotion in some of my work.

What is your working process?

My process is dynamic and always developing. The digital phase began by using the software Hockney used in his work of this nature, so I used the iPad as a sketch pad using photos as reference to create initial ideas. From the outset, I felt that I was harnessing a digital paintbrush rather than engaging in photo manipulation. I realised quite early on, however, that I needed to import these images to work on them further and so taught myself how to use Photoshop to improve the resolution and detail initially. However, this soon developed into using Photoshop as a painting tool directly and, as someone self-taught, I have developed tools to try and create a ‘light paint box’, so I work directly with this. I have also since moved this back into the act of physical painting again by creating painted versions of the digitally created paintings. I am quite enjoying this. Often painting can be a sort of problem solving. Learning how to create light in a different way using pigments can be challenging.

How do you create and choose the striking colours in your art work?

The colours I think are an emotional response to what I see, sometimes very intense and bright and at others much more muted, but nearly always not directly representational. Once the work is commenced, it sometimes seems to have a life of its own.

What was your experience of your Northern Light exhibition at 53two last year? Can we expect any exhibitions in 2018?

It was a great opportunity to have the Northern Light exhibition, a chance to meet numbers of different creatives and other interested people from the area. There was lots of interest in how I work and people curious about my subject matter. I prefer to see myself as a recorder or witness to things happening around me and hope that my work inspires people to take a second look at some of the things they see.

I am hoping to confirm dates on a follow-up exhibition, likely to be sometime towards the end of April.

Claire Riley will next be exhibiting work at SevenBro7hers, Ancoats. The launch evening is on Thursday 26 April and her art will be available to view there from Wednesday 25 to Sunday 29 April.
clairerileymodernart.co.uk

Ian Pennington