Artist Chris Cyprus captures Northern Lights in new show at Contemporary Six

Debbie Manley | 27th February 2018

Photo by Andrew Shayler

When artist Chris Cyprus first tried to capture the magical colours of twilight in his beloved Mossley, little did he know he was painting the first of a series that would span over a decade, run to 250 images and see him featured on prime time BBC.

That series, called Northern Lights – instantly recognisable for its palette of striking blues, oranges and yellows – is now at an end. And an exhibition at the Contemporary Six near Manchester’s Albert Square, will showcase 36 paintings, including the final composition, Saturday 10 March – Sunday 1 April 2018.

The premise of the series is simple: scenes of everyday northern life illuminated by both the setting sun and the distinctive warm glow of sodium street lighting. The subject matter is down to earth and instantly relatable, from pubs and chippies to bus stops, garages and back alleyways

And it quickly became apparent that many others, besides Chris, a former self-employed builder, were fascinated by the play of natural and artificial light as the street lamps first come on at the end of the day.

People loved the Gorton-born artist’s unsentimental blend of northern grit and cosy warmth and prices started to rise from just £200 a painting at the start of the series to the £450-£5,000 plus he now commands.

One local patron has 15 of his tableaux dotted around their home, whilst a fan in Germany tops this with 18 in their collection. The self-taught painter has aficionados as far afield as the United States and Australia – a combination of expats and starry-eyed holidaymakers who wanted to take a slice of the UK home with them.

Since 2005, Chris has captured the beginnings of nightfall at settings around Greater Manchester, including Saddleworth, Duckinfield, Oldham, Ramsbottom, Mossley and Stockport, where he lived for a time as a child.

Further east, paintings feature corners of Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay, Holmfirth and Huddersfield in Yorkshire.

One of the luxuries of being based in Pennine country is my close proximity to a wide range of striking locations,” he said. “The UK is truly beautiful in parts and the diversity of its landscape keeps pulling me back”.

But in 2015, his relationship with his Northern Lights series took on a new intensity. Chris discovered that a UK-wide Government programme to replace the evocative orange sodium bulb in street lighting with more environmentally friendly LEDs was already under way.

His labour of love now became a race against time and Chris vowed to complete 250 pictures against the clock.

“End of an era”

“My painting took on a new significance,” he said. “I felt like I was chronicling the end of an era. I’m fully supportive of the green credentials of the new lighting – and the cost saving for cash strapped councils across the forgotten north – but I won’t half miss those magical moments when the orange street lamps crank up at dusk.”

It was during this period that researchers from the BBC1 programme The One Show got in touch. The producer’s idea was to capture a street scene before and after the change-over of the bulbs. Their chosen location was a hilly avenue of neat terraced houses in Ramsbottom . After the broadcast went out last October, Chris’s fanbase went through the roof and he sold almost all the remaining pictures in the series.

It was really hard to say to people they were almost gone… I’ve never known anything like it. It was both a blessing and a curse!”

But despite the new wave of interest in the series, Chris is still certain it’s time to move on.

“I’m evolving as an artist all the time and needed to seek new ventures,” he said. My biggest fear has always been becoming complacent. I couldn’t live with myself if I became a pastiche painter of a bygone age.

“I don’t know what’s next. I’m always experimenting. I like to paint seasonally, so maybe my inspiration will come in the spring.”

The final painting, a scene which depicts the outside of his mill-based studio in Mossley, is one of the 36 in his closing exhibition. It opens on Saturday 10 March at Contemporary Six, Manchester. The gallery will also be selling 250 numbered and signed limited edition books based on the series of paintings.

Contemporary Six, 37 Princess St, Manchester M2 4FN

Opening hours: Tue-Fri 10.30am-6pm, Saturday 10.30am-5pm and Sunday 11am -5pm.


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