By Martin Dawber
Southport watercolour artist, Steve Rigby, takes painting ‘en plein air’ to a new level.
Some of the local scenes he has painted started as sketches on the back of betting slips: “I take betting slips and pens from the bookies when I go in to put a bet on the football. They’re free art materials,” he furtively admits. Odds are, Steve’s backed another winner with his upcoming exhibition at The ArtHouse on Eastbank Street in Southport (10th – 21st August).
When the weather permits, Steve is often seen out on location, sensitively capturing the reality of painting in situ. His impressionistic watercolours follow a similar path to earlier artists like Monet, Turner and van Gogh, convinced by the value of working in the open air under natural light.
“I try to create atmosphere and mood in my paintings. It’s about tone, rather than colour. I don’t use many colours, it’s about light.”
Despite watercolour’s notoriety as a difficult medium to control, Steve’s atmospheric scenes seem effortlessly conjured by the skilful application of his brush and paints. They are anchored on the page by a loose articulation that potently conjures up impressionistic mementos of his travels.
Watercolours always allow for freedom of movement and Steve’s free flowing technique is certainly put to the test as he translates the distinguishing imagery of his chosen subject, often the major cities across Europe, into his own personal visual language.
To further his knowledge of the medium, in 2008, Steve went Down Under to study with master Australian water-colourist, Joseph Zbukvic. Steve and Joseph have since kept in touch and remain friends, painting together on trips to both Venice and the Dordogne.
However, many of Steve’s favourite paintings are of his hometown on Merseyside. Originally from Runcorn, Steve, who is largely self-taught, moved to Southport over 20 years ago. Despite the UK’s unreliable weather Steve often takes inspiration from the urban landscape literally on his doorstep.
“I like rainy paintings and I like painting buildings, particularly the Liver Building in Liverpool and the buildings along Lord Street in Southport, with Holy Trinity Church at one end of the town centre and the clock tower at the other. I aim to include one of those big verticals in my work.”
There was a further big vertical in the piece he recently created for Sky’s ‘Landscape Painter of the Year’ programme when he re-appeared on the show in autumn 2019 after being shortlisted by the judges as a potential ‘wildcard’ winner the season before.
“It was a painting of Smeaton’s Tower from Plymouth Hoe, looking down on Drake’s island,” he remembers. “It was a great experience to be on the programme and hopefully it was good exposure for me.”
Steve’s limited palette and swift, free-flowing style have gained him much recognition. His paintings appear in galleries and collections locally, nationally and worldwide and he continues to generously offer tuition and demonstrations up and down the country.
Steve believes that we all have the ability not only to paint but also to enjoy the act of painting once we know its secrets. He prides himself on his ability to get the best out of his students by repeatedly targeting the focus directly towards each individual. Steve’s advice to his students is always to “paint as they wish” and to enjoy creating something that is personal and unique to themselves.
Steve’s inclusive and amiable personality is always well to the fore within his shared workshops. Despite his obvious authority in the watercolour community he remains approachable and supportive, presenting himself as an encouraging chaperon to the enjoyment of painting ‘en plein air’ and the ritual of taking part.
Director of Southport Contemporary Arts, Norrie Beswick-Calvert, confirms: “We are delighted to welcome back Steve Rigby to the ArtHouse Gallery with his new solo show. The exhibition will showcase a wide range of work in Steve’s fabulously loose and atmospheric style, which plays to the full strengths of watercolour as his preferred medium.”
A Retrospective by Steve Rigby
10th – 21st August 2021
Tues-Fri: 10am-3pm/Sat: 11am-4pm
Southport Contemporary Arts
65 Eastbank Street, Southport
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