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A Magazine for Sheffield

Bryan John: Expressionism in Sheffield

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Coming back into print after our summer break, it's always nice to feature a bold and colourful art submission. Local painter Bryan John fits the bill nicely, with his striking pieces which capture scenes many of you will be familiar with.

Despite being early in his artistic career, Bryan has a very clear sense of where he's going with his work, as well as having - like any good Expressionist - a keen eye for colour and contrast.

Bryan told us more about his work, which is featured throughout this issue.

What brought you to where you are today? Why Expressionism?

I only started painting just over a year ago. I guess I was having a mini crisis, where I felt my creative output was being supressed and I just needed to do something. I was reading a lot of art history books at the time and I was really obsessed with the German Expressionists like Macke, Marc and Kandinsky, as well as Robert and Sonia Delaunay. I loved their use of colour and knew that had to feature in my work.

I like to capture the image in the golden hour, just before sunset

Expressionism was cut short by World War One - Marc and Macke were both killed, and the horrors soldiers saw contributed to the rise of abstract art as an escape - so I think there is a lot still to come from the genre.

How has your technique developed since you started out?

I started painting very simplistically - big brush strokes and basic figures without faces. I then started to practice from old holiday photos, where I would enhance the image through photo editing software to manipulate the colours.

But it was on the way to York train station at sunset when I noticed a red sky over the river that I realised that these colours were already there naturally and you just need to look closer.

Recently, I've started to include mistakes in my work, where I might liberally add colour to form a building and decide I went too far when I come to add an outline. I have started to keep this in, much like a child going over the lines in a colouring book.

What is your working process? Do you work from photos?

Yes, I like to capture the image in the golden hour, just before sunset, when there is colour in the sky, preferably when there is good cloud coverage. Then I pick out the most prominent colour and work from that using the complementary colour theory, much the same as Delaunay and the Expressionists did: blues and oranges/yellows; purples and yellows; greens and reds. I like to keep the image realistic in terms of form and express myself through colour.

Is it important for you that you're primarily capturing Sheffield scenes in your work?

Yes and no, really. I am happy to capture other cities and places, but I see Sheffield as my home now (after seven years) and like other Sheffielders, I enjoy my city. It isn't exactly known for its architecture, but I think there is a certain charm about it. Plus it is a city in flux at the moment. You can't look anywhere without seeing a crane. It is nice to capture those changes.

What are your plans for the remainder of 2017?

I would like to paint other cities in the near future. I have this idea of working with a bunch of Sheffield artists and photographers, putting on a travelling exhibition to other cities which feature cityscapes of the city we exhibit in. 'Manchester: Made in Sheffield', or something like that.

I am doing a charity exhibition in November along with a friend's band, Mad Mods and Englishmen, who are providing the soundtrack. That's in The Crown pub in Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire. I will be painting local scenes for that, as well as of the band, but no doubt I'll be back painting Sheffield again.

Sam Walby

Next article in issue 114

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