This is off-topic. No crime. But it is about Blackpool which is even more fascinating than crime and it is about an artist.
I saw a painting eight years ago.
My heart leapt.
The artist was called Colin Smith. I knew nothing else about him. I wanted a print of the painting but there were none available. I noted the name and decided that I would like to talk to the artist.
This is the painting.
From the moment I saw it I adored it. Why? Well it seems to me to be a depiction of Blackpool Tower and Promenade. (I refuse to say iconic) So far so good. It is in a tradition of nostalgic art… you can see dozens of them. I suffer from being a socialist and a snob so I kind of think of this as the kind of thing a prosperous scrap metal merchant might put on his (or her obviously) wall : “Now that’s what I call proper art.”
But it is more…. The camels give it a surreal, witty twist. The painting plays on the connection of the beach and a desert and on the fact that camels from the Tower Zoo did exercise on Blackpool Beach and in Victorian times camel rides were offered on the beach. Finally the painting encapsulates Blackpool as the world capital of Surreal. This is hard to explain but you have experiences in Blackpool that you don’t have anywhere else.
Three examples: I was in Blackpool in Bank Hey Street. In front of me was an older respectable looking man. A retired geography teacher? Suddenly he shouted: “Don’t worry Mabel, I’ll rescue you.” And he ran (really ran) backwards into a shop. He did this a lot.
Walking down Redbank Road outside Sainsburys and I saw Jesus walking in the opposite direction towards the sea, carrying his cross. It was Good Friday.
Keeping to a religious theme Michael Fox was walking towards the Tower along the Promenade from the North. He was starring at the Grand in a play called: “Doctor at Sea.” He saw the Tower and the pier form a cross reflected in the sea. He became a Christian and a recluse joining a Christian group called the Navigators. He had been in the film: “Performance” with Mick Jagger, substances were taken.
Blackpool is surreal.
The painter was Colin Smith. Many years later I was speaking to an old friend, an ex-teacher and I saw a painting on her wall. It was quite different from the camel painting but I knew immediately it was a Colin Smith. I asked and she told me that her son knew the painter and that they had worked together at BNFL Springfield and that she had asked the painter if he would sell her a painting. He is reluctant to sell his paintings but perhaps because of special circumstances (her husband was terminally ill) he agreed to sell her the painting.
So I searched in the Voter’s Register and I located Colin Smith and I sent him a note asking if I could interview him and to my joy he agreed.
Colin Smith lives in a carefully maintained Victorian House with sympathetic decor. I was struck by the colours in the neatly-kept garden.
Colin Smith is an alert seventy year old with striking light blue eyes.
He has been retired for 15 years. He worked as a chemical plumber at the Nuclear Power Plant at Springfield near Preston. He has had little art training. He did go to night school. When I asked him why he started painting his answer was surprising. His partner was giving up smoking and they stayed in more to avoid temptation .
He went to school in Manchester and was struck by the paintings of Van Gogh. He particularly admires Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Jan Van Eyck.
He had an exhibition at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool and won a prize for the painting I like so much. I said to him that I had admired the way that the Tower was subtly altered (its hard to put your finger on but the Tower is the wrong shape and this adds to the surreal effect) and he laughed and said it was a mistake because he was using a photograph the angle was distorted. He showed me more of his work. Some of it uses a seaside theme.
At seventy he is a fit alert man. He still cycles. Sadly he lost his partner. He is a Christian although this does not influence his work. I mentioned that I knew somebody who was a Christian in Blackpool and he said he knew of him too. ( I hope to write about my Christian friend some time. Although he only as a tiny pension from the Post Office he goes to Uganda every year.)
And so I left. If Colin Smith had been born say thirty years ago he would have gone to art college and produced diamond decorated skulls put together by somebody else… So let’s be grateful that he didn’t. Colin Smith’s painting of the Tower makes me a bit happier. Best of all I obtained a print.
I often write about crime and it does make you aware the people have a dark side. Walk around Blackpool on a busy day and you will pass murderers, addicts, paedophiles. And when you are in Blackpool in the crowd you will pass murderers and drug dealers but you will pass astonishing artists.
This is another of Colin Smith’s works.
I hope you enjoy Colin Smith’s work as much as I do.