Nostalgic for childhood games
BRINGING his second exhibition to Exeter in just over six months is award-winning artist Neil Buchanan.
After spending most of his career creating inspiring art ideas for children on the hugely successful CITV show Art Attack, he is relishing the chance to be recognised as an artist in his own right.
The theme of Neil's debut collection of fine art, called Hope Street, didn't completely move away from his art association with children because it depicted nostalgic paintings of childhood, and neither does his latest collection.
This time Neil has drawn children creating sporting mischief in a series of five works entitled Back Street Games. The brand new collection of limited edition fine art is currently being exhibited at both the South Gate Gallery in South Street, Exeter, and Art Source UK in Plymouth this month and throughout July and August.
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In celebration of the Olympics, Neil has pushed back the boundaries and jumped over hurdles to create a cheeky and witty bit of sporting art naughtiness.
The collection portrays alternative games played out in the alleys, parks and gardens of the nation packed with gags and humour.
Wooden crates are transformed into the winning podium, dustbins morph into hurdles, a battered fence changes into the high jump and a bit of old string transforms into the hallowed finishing line.
Revealing where the inspiration for Back Street Games came from, Neil said: "Everyone has gone Olympics mad this year over the biggest sporting event the country has seen for years, so I thought I would go the opposite way and depict what goes on all over the rest of the country – not just in London.
"This is the 'smallest' sporting event of the year and features the reality of what really happens in the back streets and parks of little Britain."
So was it a case of Neil looking back at the 'games' he got up to in his own youth?
"Sort of," he confessed. "As youngsters we were always inventing our own versions of the great sporting events of the day, whether it was the World Cup, Wimbledon, the great footy achievements of the Liverpool teams, the cricket, rugby events... the list is endless. We had our own version of all of them in our back street.
"The alleyways of my childhood were our playground, stadium, stage and park – and there wasn't a blade of grass in sight! I knew every nook and cranny, gutter and wall, fence and lamppost like the back of my hand. I can still remember the cracks in the road that we used as our football pitch markings, and they are still there to this day."
When it comes to admitting what 'naughty' games Neil and his childhood friends used to play, he is understandably not so forthcoming.
"There were lots – but as a well-known and responsible public figure and parent of two children I couldn't possibly tell," he laughed. " You will need to track down the long suffering neighbours, ex-girlfriend, teachers and local 'bobbies-on-the-beat' of my youth to find the truth! Suffice to say, apple orchards, garden sheds and door knockers featured heavily."
It is now four years since Neil last attacked art on his BAFTA award winning TV show Art Attack, in front of six million viewers each week.
When he left it marked the end of 17 successful years as its creator, presenter and artist. Since then Neil has swapped his wax crayons for acrylic paints and particularly enjoys working in mixed media, this time choosing acrylic paint and ink pen. He revealed: "I like its sketchy informality and in my latest collection it reflects the mischievous and slightly irreverent subject matter of the pictures themselves. I have always been a big fan of scratchy pens!
"Acrylic is a great paint to use. Because of its quick drying nature it demands an energy and immediacy when using it. It's quite a buzz using it as it can be a bit of a battle which keeps you on your toes."
You might think that Neil's other battle is trying to break away from his reputation of creating children's art, but in fact he is immensely proud it.
Neil, whose greatest love isn't art but actually being a musician performing with his recently revived heavy metal band, Marseille, said: "I never, ever for one moment approached Art Attack as 'children's art'. It was simply a collection of really neat ideas.
"All of the research done throughout the 20 series showed that as many adults watched the programme as children. I think that is because every idea I came up with for the show first and foremost had to appeal to my own sense of creative appreciation so it had to make me feel, 'Ha, that's pretty cool. I like that'.
"It was all, and still is, me just being creative. And it happens every day of my life from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed at the end of the day."
And that means that Neil could hopefully make his third visit to Exeter again very soon.
"There are many more ideas where this lot came from," he promised. "More paintings and maybe more telly so watch this space!"
The Back Street Games collection has been reproduced on canvas on board, measuring 46cm x 57cm, giving each work of art the look and feel of an original painting, but at a fraction of the price.
Each piece of artwork is personally signed by Neil and comes in a limited edition of 95.