The Whitaker’s winter offering is a natural one – in Irwell: Afterlife, artist Liam Spencer presents his paintings from a series focusing on the river Irwell, having undergone something of a surprise revival despite the historically astronomical levels of pollution.
Tragically, by now we are used to connecting environmental and nature-focused motifs in visual arts with a sense of hopelessness and a bleak outlook on the future of our natural surroundings. The fruits of Spencer’s artistic research can give us hope though – although the river isn’t necessarily clean, the flora and fauna that it was once home to is finding its way back.
The Burnley-born artist has always had a connection to the River Irwell, playing in water and fishing from an early age. Later on, the artist describes his creative journey as somewhat intertwined with the river, with multiple studios that he’s worked in being located by the Irwell or its tributaries. Liam Spencer is best known for his vivid urban landscapes of northern cities, particularly Manchester.
In Irwell: Afterlife, viewers will be able to see Spencer’s paintings, drawings, photographs and film, created over the past year when the artist has been walking the 39-mile long stretch – from the river’s source Rossendale to its final section in Salford Quays and the Manchester Ship Canal. His preoccupation with nature’s gradual reclamation of abandoned, post-industrial landscapes has turned out to be fertile ground for creative activity.
From ink drawings to oil paintings, Spencer has been documenting pockets of nature thriving in this post-industrial landscape: noticing trout swimming in amongst the abandoned shopping trolleys and kingfishers waiting for their prey. Delicately painted dragonflies on a watery surface are shown in a mosaic of other light-touch ink drawings, while most recently the artist has also been filming the river’s banks and its inhabitants.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a number of events, such as an artist talk in early February. See the website for more details.