Published on April 4, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Art and beer go together like… beer and art, as Alastair Gilmour finds out
Local is the name of the game; we all love local. Local produce, local history and a pint at the local – it’s a comforting word. And you can’t get much more local than a Newcastle microbrewery calling itself Newcastle Brewing with branding designed by the chap round the corner.
The striking illustrations are by celebrated artist Jim Edwards who is so local he’s one of the family (the brewery and Arch2 Bar & Kitchen are owned by father-and-son Mike and Leo Bell and Jim Edwards is married to Leo’s sister).
Jim’s work straddles solid cityscapes and abstract images inspired by man-made structures which lend Newcastle Brewing’s craft beers a solidity and sense of place.
His studio is in Newcastle’s creative hub, the Ouseburn Valley – as are Newcastle Brewing and Arch2 where some of his paintings hang.
“I’m very interested in line, form and structure,” says Jim. “The city is my muse; I’m strongly influenced by what’s around us, particularly the bridges.”
Jim’s paintings progress through layers and layers of acrylic paint, developing an intensity and a surreal glow that he’s made his signature style. He starts off with blocks of grey colour and gradually builds up a scene until he’s happy with it.
“You can’t get that effect with one layer of brushstrokes,” he says. “Each painting varies – some take a couple of days to complete, some take a week, and one in particular of the Great North Run took weeks to do – all those tiny people. Sometimes you’ve got to be quite hard on yourself knowing where the end point of a picture is. You can beat yourself up about when you should stop.”
He’s careful to add that the whole process should also be fun.
“There was no great reason behind the works on show at Arch2 but Leo wanted something colourful for the bottle labels – so, being family, I was happy to do it. I think the product has benefitted from that. It’s not something I’d let anyone use, but at the end of the day it’s the quality of the beer that counts, not the images.”
Jim is originally from North Wales – around Snowdonia – and went to art school in Norwich where he met his now wife, Natalie.
“She dragged me up here in 1999 to where she was originally from,” he says. “She’s an artist in her own right, making teddy bears. I worked as a picture framer and showed my paintings at Armstrong Bridge when it was a craft market.”
Jim soon realised from seeing others selling local photographs and paintings that people are fascinated by pictures of Newcastle; there appeared to be an insatiable appetite for sturdy buildings with local meaning and bridges with individual style. Everybody has their favourite, but it’s fair to say that Jim Edwards’ renditions aren’t particularly true to life.
He says: “You can get bogged down making things too accurate, like how many windows there are or what’s that building behind. I’m more interested in central points of interest and not being too realistic.
“It’s actually the way we see things. You can tell when someone paints a picture from a photograph – why not just use photo and be done? I once did a mural for Gateshead Council and they didn’t want the ‘Get Carter’ car park in.”
Jim takes his sketchbook out with him to note shapes of structures, often skewing them to suit the particular need at that time. “It’s ‘let’s try it this way’ at the sketch stage and working out a solution,” he says.
Some of his initial sketches are mini-masterpieces by themselves – from pub interiors to the armadillo-like undulations of The Sage, Gateshead.
“Sketches are problem-solving and the more detailed sketches are worked up from thumbnails,” he says. “I’ve always got a sketchbook with me, even sitting in front of the telly I’ll be doodling away.”
Encouragingly for would-be artists, Jim uses bog-standard biros to make his rough thumbnails, rather than using fancy-pants hi-tech pens.
“Biros are great for making marks, they have a great depth of hue, you can make heavy and light areas and smudge like using a pencil. They’re also quite cheap.”
Interestingly, the vast majority of Jim’s paintings are people-free, an observation he smiles at. “As soon as you put one person in it’s a bit of a distraction and it’s all you can see.”
The gallery walls are full of highly-coloured paintings and prints, ranging from Jesmond Dene, Tynemouth Priory, Bamburgh Castle, Cullercoats, the Tyne’s bridges, bridges, bridges, and every Ouseburn pub – The Ship Inn, The Cluny, Cumberland Arms, Tyne Bar and Free Trade Inn.
He says: “I must stop doing the Free Trade – people think I’m obsessed by it – but every time I’m in there I see something different. One painting leads to another. It’s a brilliant pub.
“There’s nothing better than sitting with a pint and scribbling. In Ouseburn pubs you get this feeling of not being in a city, they’re more relaxing.
“The Ouseburn is renowned for its creativity and its pubs. I live quite near there and everything I want from pubs is there.
“There’s so much subject matter around the North East; Newcastle has a lot going for it, as have Durham and Edinburgh, compared to cities like London.”
But as part of the family, how does he rate Newcastle Brewing’s beers?
He says: “I quite like the Satsuma IPA and the rhubarb one that actually came from my garden, but maybe I’m being a bit biased there. I’m not fond of the coffee one, Saison Barillas.”
Jim Edwards is content to be local in everything he creates. Wonder what he thinks of Newcastle Brewing’s Thai Haze Super Pale?