Artist profile - Helen Clapcott, Macclesfield
PUBLISHED: 00:06 03 January 2014
Success has been a long time coming for Helen Clapcott, but for this Macclesfield artist, it's never been about the fame
Stockport’s changing urban landscape has inspired artist Helen Clapcott since she was a schoolgirl.
For over 30 years, her paintings have transformed its roads, railways and industrial heritage into panoramas of unique beauty.
After several decades in which her work has slowly gained recognition, she is finally winning a wider audience.
The BBC is set to screen a documentary about her paintings and earlier his year Helen had a successful exhibition at a London gallery, which she describes as a ‘major breakthrough’. This autumn, her paintings were on show at the Wendy J. Levy Gallery in Didsbury (which closed at the end of December).
Born in Blackpool 61 years ago, Helen moved to Stockport with her family when she was 10 and her first glimpses of the Mersey Valley were love at first sight.
‘From early adolescence I always wanted to paint what I saw. I would get the train every day to school over the railway viaduct looking out at the marvellous view.’
Home is an Edwardian terrace home in Macclesfield, which she shares with her partner, illustrator Ian Pollock. ‘We have the same soul,’ she says of their 40-year relationship.
The couple have lived in Macclesfield since 1985 when homesickness for the North brought her back from London and now her grown-up children have fled the nest there is more time for painting.
Her first-floor studio overlooks the back garden and it’s here she works tirelessly on her craft – often skipping meals and sleep. Every painting starts off with meticulous drawings in her sketchbook and she is still painting from scenes originally drawn in the 1980’s when many iconic Stockport buildings began to be demolished, as planners mapped out a new vision for a landscape then dominated by dozens of mill chimneys and factories where townsfolk once earned their livelihoods from spinning and weaving.
Her paintings capture now-disappeared iconic landmarks like the massive Beehive Mills, which used to stand on the site now occupied by Tesco.
Many of them were researched on the spot as the bulldozers moved in and she has often had to ask permission to work on building sites with her sketchbook in hand.
‘For every painting there are numerous drawings. I sit there with my hard hat on chatting with the workmen. It’s a painstaking process and can take months or years.’
Helen is one of a very few modern artists working in tempera - egg-based emulsion painted on panels prepared with gesso, a smooth surface like plaster of Paris. This technique, favoured by centuries of artists from ancient times until the 15th century, means she can erase scenes and re-work them in the cause of perfection.
Inevitably, given the focus on the industrial North, her work has been compared to L S Lowry, who she describes as a ‘towering figure’.
But her dream-like paintings owe more, she says, to the Expressionist tradition of favourite artists Edvard Munch and Chaim Soutine.
She honed her craft studying Fine Art at Liverpool Art College and the Royal Academy. Over the years, she has supplemented the family income with part-time lecturing in Bath, Southampton and Stockport College.
Looking back, she acknowledges it was often a struggle financially but for the first time in her long career she is starting to make serious money.
Her Six Miles South of Manchester exhibition at the Osborne Samuel gallery in London featured over 40 paintings and drawings priced from £1,500 for simple oil on paper drawings to £10,500 for End of the Season – a massive painting of Stockport County Football Ground lit by four huge floodlights shining down on the town
But as befits a child of the 1960’s, who describes herself as a ‘bit of a hippy’ cash is not a major motivation and she is disarmingly modest about her talent.
‘It’s nice to have a bit of extra money, but it has never been about that. I never get tired of the changing light and scenes across the Cheshire Plain. I take my paints and sketchbook and just sit there scribbling away.’
However, her long-time champions like Wendy Levy of the Wendy J. Levy Gallery in Didsbury are delighted that Helen’s time in the spotlight has finally come. Wendy says: ‘Helen has a very distinctive style which is becoming much sought-after. She is one of Cheshire’s most exciting painters today.’
To see more of Helen’s work visit www.paintingsofstockport.co.uk