How does one go about becoming an artist? Some move to Paris and wait for inspiration to strike, some start drawing from infancy and hope for the best, and some become rock stars first, and fall into painting once their band hits the rocks. That was the case for John Squire, former guitarist of pioneer English rock band, the Stone Roses.
“You leave a few groups, become disillusioned, start painting,” he says languidly, brushing grey-streaked dark hair out of his eyes. Well, at least we know he still looks the part of a rock star.
Squire’s involvement in art is not anything particularly new; his Jackson-Pollock-style artwork used to adorn the covers of Stone Roses albums, singles, and promotional posters while he was still involved in the band. However, it has only been in recent years that his art has become such a prominent part of his life. In 2004, he converted a barn near his home in Macclesfield into an art studio, started painting full time and held his first exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
Since then, his art, described as “bold and dynamic and saturated with emotion” by Saatchi and Saatchi Art Magazine, has found great success.
Besides exhibiting in galleries across the globe from London to Tokyo, he has also been involved in various commercial projects including recently creating postcards for the RCA Secret Project and designing book covers for the Penguin Decades Series.
Squire, who has said that art feels more natural to him than music, seems to be reveling in the new fame he has found as an artist.
“To me, it’s not really work,” he says. “I don’t find myself running out of ideas. I never lose momentum. It’s something that I never managed to achieve with music.”
Counting Jackson Pollock, Gary Hume and Georgia O’Keeffe amongst his influences, he opines that oil painting is still his favourite way to work with art. “I feel like I’m finally starting to understand its alchemy,” he muses. “It’s all about form and colour, whatever the subject. There’s something about wax that feels a bit obnoxious, but oil is pure and simple. Rewarding.”
Despite this, he has also been known to utilise numerous other kinds of materials. For instance, what about his flirtation with metal and methods of welding last year? “Never again,” he laughs. “Too much work. Too unyielding.”
Lately, his works have focused on conventional drawing and painting. His latest exhibition, titled Structural Violence, staged here in York, is a vigorous collection that blends block colour and stark monotone, using hand-carved block prints to explore the influence of architectural structures and linear cityscapes.
“It just fell out of the blue,” Squire explains. “I was trying to avoid figure drawing and started off with a studio tidy-up. I found a rubber roller, took the chance to get out of the studio, and found the results very satisfying. It was purely coincidental.”
The exhibition was the first to open at the newly founded Bar Lane Studios, Micklegate, on the site of the old York Sony Centre. Structural Violence debuted last Friday in conjunction with the opening of the not-for-profit art hub, opened by York illustrator, Ben Clowes.
For those of us who aren’t as lucky to start off in a major rock band, Bar Lane Studios provides a space for artists in the interim between graduating from university and jumping into the working world. The studios, which are a first of its kind in the UK in terms of its scope, offer facilities like an Apple Mac suite, a print workshop, a showcase gallery, and up to 22 studios for hire from as little as £1.50 per day.
Students graduating this summer, especially, are encouraged to drop by and view the space. While it remains early days for the project, the space promises to be entirely ready by August. Courses and workshops to be run at the studio range from Screen Printing and Jewellery Design to Nathan Walsh’s Painting Master Class.
“I wish them the best of luck,” says Squire. “It’s great to see artists start out young. I believe people develop; they don’t just exist. Like for me, art is not just a departure from music. I try to make beautiful objects. It’s more like a return to something.”
Ah, yes, the music. While Squire has said over and over again that he has no intention of a Stone Roses reunion, surely it must be impossible for him to completely outgrow those good old days.
“No,” he insists. “Performing live is definitely something to be experienced, of course. But it is a youthful pursuit. Touring around in a van with the lads just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. In a way, exhibiting is like performing live. There is a similar kind of desire for personal exposure and wanting to be judged.” He smiles. “It’s just been tempered by age.”