Published on March 10, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
A swirl of paint in every pint
We can never separate pubs from other cultural activities, writes Alastair Gilmour
There’s a world of difference between viewing works of art in a bar – drink in hand – to creeping around the hushed atmosphere of a gallery full of studiously nodding heads, drink in hand. Pubs are the perfect setting for appreciating culture.
The reasons for that are for art historians and psychologists to explain fully, but when you’re in a pub you’re more relaxed and better equipped to give or take criticism, while at a more basic level, your senses are heightened by a sessionable ale.
Pubs in Sheffield discovered this a few years ago when art lovers set up a Pub Scrawl. Organised tours slipped between them with a chance to buy artworks there and then. The rationale was that people might make considered decisions on paintings, photographs and prints in a pub that they might not in a gallery. And, pubs, like any other businesses, need to create more ways of attracting custom and to keep it.
Over the next few pages, we’re looking at the craft of art as well as the art of craft. They go hand in hand. Creativity knows no borders – it’s a Shengen Area that allows beer, pub and art lovers to criss-cross disciplines at will until they merge as one united family. And the North East family has world-class talent to call on.
“I can’t tell you which celebrities own my work because I have to sign confidentiality agreements,” says street artist Hush, as we sit in front of the mural he installed at The Bridge Tavern in Newcastle.
Hush can sell his work in the US for $140,000 – and the fact that he’s a died-in-the-wool Geordie should take nothing away from his undoubted ability.
“If a work of this size was on canvas it would cost £70,000,” Hush says. “People want my work in their venues, it’s buying into the underground art culture. Many of my murals are in Miami, California and New York, but the only things I do for free are for Dave Stone and Rob Cameron (directors of Greenan Blueye, the company that owns The Bridge Tavern).
“They have supported a lot of the nightlife culture in Newcastle; it’s amazing what they’ve done, they’re a big part of the community. Every week I get offers to do a restaurant or pub for £20,000 to £40,000 but I turn them down because I don’t want to be associated with that particular venue.
“Do you know what? I’m still very pleased with this (closely examining the mural in the terrace bar of the pub). It marks a time in my career. My work has progressed over the years. This has been a bit picked at but these things can’t be perfect for ever – sometimes that can even add to the price.”
From Newcastle Art School (now the hugely expanded Newcastle College), Hush started off in graphic illustration and became an art director for advertising agencies in London, Edinburgh and Hong Kong. But he admits he has always tackled street art on the side.
“That whole thing evolved out of nothing,” he says. “You never thought you would be going to private parties with Kim and Kanye. I could be in Miami one day and Los Angeles the next doing a mural.
“This sort of street art was made famous by Banksy and everybody wants to know the identity of the artist. It was all illegal at one time but now it’s a brand. My style is usually strong enough to not need to sign it. If you sign a canvas it takes the work into a different realm, almost a loss of identity.”
Banksy’s street art – high on political and social commentary – has featured on walls, bridges and commercial interiors in cities throughout the world.
Dave Stone was an early supporter of Banksy’s work, commissioning the now legendary series of chimps strung with political placards and the Punk Angel door at a Brighton night-spot.
He says: “We had a club, the Ocean Rooms, when Banksy was just breaking, so we got him down to do it out. We knew he was on the ascent. But eventually we fell out with the club owner. We had paid Banksy £2,500 for the work and I read in the Sunday papers later that the club owner had sold it for quarter-of-a-million.
“Artworks like this have always been in our DNA here at The Bridge Tavern and at the Town Wall and Wylam Brewery with Mr Scruff’s work, another of our favourite artists. Making beer, after all, is an art form, it’s creating a different type of art. There’s nothing worse than going into a pub and seeing pictures of bulldogs playing snooker, or Wings of Love.”
Hush is fascinated that people take selfies in front of his work to distribute on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – fascinated and tickled.
“Images are the new social currency,” he says. “You take an image of yourself beside an image that says you’ve been there. It says you’re cool and you’ve seen it.
“Each piece of work has taken a lifetime to produce. I tend to use a lot of different techniques. I produced this one in the studio then ripped it up and reassembled it on the wall at The Bridge Tavern so it’s almost like a collage.”
But who is the girl in the painting? Is she a pub regular? Does she even exist?
Hush says: “She was actually a French girl. She looks a bit Asian maybe because of how I’ve done the lips and the white skin. It’s nothing to do with race or colour, it’s just a depiction of a female.”
Now, is there a better invitation to nod your head in appreciation? Ale in hand, of course.