Artist Michael Clarke
…memories and influences of Leicester
ARTIST MICHAEL CLARKE has vivid memories of growing up in Leicester’s old West End where he was born in 1946 in New Park Street. Within sight and sound of the Great Central railway and just around the corner from Gadsby’s Braunstone Gate shop and framing works.
Michael told Gadsby’s, “I gained my early inspiration for industrial land scape art from the old West End mix of canals, factories with tall chimneys. And the sulphur haze from coal fires that hovered just above the roof tops of the teeming terraces we lived among.
“The mouth of the street was spanned by the now much missed Bow String bridge, featured in the print of my painting “West End Crossing”.
“The area had a unique atmosphere with wonderful industrial architecture, that over the years I have featured in my paintings,” said Michael. “Back then the pace and life of the area seemed to be dictated by the factory hooter and trains forging the rails from Leicester Central station.”
“Over the years I’ve shared varied influences that have stimulated my interest in art. My late father would never have laid claims to being an artist. However l am grateful for the many hours he spent explaining perspective lines. And facial structures by drawing his limited range of profile, portrait caricatures, for me. Meaning that from an early age I drew facial characteristics rather than the usual formative circular faces with dots for features of child hood art.”
Michael showed early artistic promise during his education at Leicester’s Catholic schools, Holy Cross, New Walk, where aged ten he won an art prize. Then in 1957 he moved to Corpus Christi. “It was a brand new school. As a keen young artist I was impressed that it had a dedicated art room with . . lone potter’s wheel and a kiln! . . . sensational then. But no comparison to the art departments in present day schools.
“However I owe much of my painting skills and art interest to my education there,” says Michael. “Art master, Mr. Bloodworth, was years ahead with his enthusiasm for recycling. Using broken crockery and fragments of shellac 78 rpm records that were fading from popularity at the time to create large icon mosaics.”
During a 1960’s newspaper apprenticeship, first with the Leicester Evening Mail and following its closure in 1963, then with the Leicester Mercury, Michael studied Typographic Design and English at Leicester College of Art & Design.
However his interest in creative drawing was put aside for about seven years. Then in 1971 he joined Leicester & Rutland Constabulary as a police officer. A move surprisingly leading to him rekindling his interest in art. When three years later the Force magazine, Tally Ho, ran a story writing competition and Michael illustrated his prize winning entry about his beloved West End, with a drawing of the street where he was born awaiting demolition man’s torch.
Around that time following a sketching holiday in Cornwall, his wife Pauline, gifted him a small set of oils. Setting him off on the road to establishing himself as a painter.
The West End providing the scenes of his early paintings. Supported from the 1990’s by W. F. Gadsbys, Michael became one of Leicester’s best known industrial landscape railway artists. Train landscape present a very challenging subject to paint,” he says. “You must deal with perspective, engineering aspects, landscape, atmosphere and figures. And no one is more critical than the railway enthusiast.”
His works have featured in books, newspapers and magazines. Including Railway Classics, Leicester Mercury and Leicester Now magazine and on greeting cards.
After earlier displays at local art shows and exhibiting at Leicestershire Police Headquarters, following retirement after 28 years police service, Michael successfully staged his first one man exhibition, “Back in the West End” at Gadsby’s Gallery, Braunstone Gate, Leicester, in 1999. Followed by exhibitions at The Great Central Railway and the lamented Snibston Discovery Park.
While railway paintings have regularly forged from Michael’s steam filled oils palette, he demonstrates versatility by producing portraits, figurative drawings and Norfolk coastal scenes in pastel, ink and pencil.
In 2002 Michael and Pauline moved from Leicestershire to live on the North Norfolk coast. Where in 2011 he was invited to stage a one man show at North Norfolk District Council offices.
He retains strong Leicestershire links and art connections with Gadsbys, Leicester, where it all started. When as a ten-year-old after saving his pocket money over many weeks he bought a box of Reeves poster paints from their Braunstone Gate shop. Never imagining at the time that this famous Leicester art business would eventually encourage, display and promote his art.