Artist delivering the best of the North West

Steven Bruce

A recent event at the POP Community Café in Hyde, Greater Manchester, brought together two very talented local artists, one a multi-award-winning cartoonist, Tony Husband, the other a self-taught ex-postman Steven Bruce – originally from Ashton-under-Lyne, now residing in sunny Blackpool!

Our Tameside reporter, Bob Alston, meandered along to take a look and was blown away by what was on display.

Here, I focus on an exceptional artist, Steven Bruce, who has had no formal training and only started painting at the age of 38 – and his oil paintings are quite remarkable.

Steven was born in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1956 and later attended ‘Parochial Junior School’ followed by ‘Ashton Grammar School’. One thing Steven told me about his school days was quite surprising: “I did take art at school, but failed my art O-Level, thus ending any further interest in it.

“Leaving school at 16 I had several short lived jobs before becoming an apprentice hairdresser, eventually working as a mobile hairdresser around the Mossley area in Tameside.”

I asked Steven how he got back into painting again after losing interest in his mid-teens and he explained: “I got married in 1978 and we had two lovely children. Sadly the marriage failed, and in 1991 I met the woman who was to change my life.

“On my birthday in 1994, at the age of 38, my partner, Jayne, bought me an oil paint set together with brushes, easel and book of how to paint in oils. This was a complete surprise, as I had shown no artistic inkling to prompt Jayne to buy me these gifts. However, I started to have a go – no lessons at all, just trial and error.

“Gradually over time I found myself wanting more and more time to paint, but having little spare time as hairdressing kept me very busy. When my relationship with Jayne ended, I took the big decision in 1997 to give up hairdressing and move to Blackpool, and take a job, first briefly as a barman on the North Pier, but then as a postman for Royal Mail, which allowed me to work in the mornings and paint in the afternoons.

“During this period I had a couple of small exhibitions at Thornton Library, Thornton-Cleveleys, and sold one or two pieces of work to fellow postmen.

“Eventually in late 2013 I took medical retirement with a shoulder problem and from then on it has been painting all the way.”

I then asked Steven how he began to get the word out about his paintings: “I set up my own website in 2014, followed shortly afterwards by moving into having prints done of my paintings to sell online.

L-R: Teenagers; Manchester Tram; Crowds

“In summer 2014 I took part in the ‘Lytham Arts Festival’, where, to my total surprise, my art was judged the winner, the first time my art had won anything!

“In 2016 I was invited to stage a solo exhibition at Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery, which proved to be a success for me both commercially, and getting wider recognition. In 2018, Blackpool Winter Gardens had an open art competition to commemorate their 140th Anniversary, which I was stunned to win.

Altrincham Inch Arts Open Exhibition

“In April this year, 2022, I submitted two pieces in the ‘Altrincham Inch Arts Open Exhibition’, which featured pieces by 90 different artists from all over the country. Alongside this exhibition there were prizes for the best paintings judged by TV arts presenter, Diana Ali, who judged one of my two pieces – Manchester Tram – into 2nd place, which was a huge lift for me.”

Over a coffee, Steven threw into the pot a couple of personal recognitions he’d received about two of his portrait paintings, so I asked him to explain more: “Since 2014 I have been invited every year in the summer to stage an exhibition at the Pavilion Café, Ashton Gardens, in St Annes. One year I met Bobby Ball’s wife, Yvonne, in the Pavilion after my painting of Bobby came to her attention when I posted it on Twitter.

“She told me that she like it very much, which pleased me, and I was honoured when she asked for 6 prints of it to give to family and friends. I was also pleased that local and international actor Stephen Graham responded to my portrait of him by re-tweeting it and saying: “That’s Crackin’ that mate”, again giving me a lot of personal satisfaction.”

L-R: Bobby Ball; Stephen Graham

Steven went on to say what he like painting the most: “I paint a variety of subjects, but my favourite subjects are places that remind me of my childhood, – Ashton-under-Lyne, Mossley, Manchester, Blackpool and St Annes, both past and present. I also like to occasionally paint portraits of people I admire.

L-R: Summer Day on Ashton Market 1962; Donkey Rides near Central Pier

“One of my big loves is Northern Soul and Mowtown Music, so I have painted plenty of pieces relating to that too. I also like depicting the effects of rain on the floor and their reflections; therefore Light and Shade play a big part in my art. Most of my art is representational with an occasional foray into semi-abstract, when I feel like a change, though that is not really my thing.”

Wet Wednesday in St Annes

So how does a busy artist relax? Steven tells me: “Outside of art my two main interests are football and Northern Soul music. I have supported Manchester United all my life and I used to be a season ticket holder, but I had to give it up when I was a postman, as I couldn’t make it to the games in time with working in Blackpool.

“I also regularly attend Northern Soul events organised by ex-Wigan Casino DJ, Richard Searling, in the Blackpool area. Coincidently, he owns three of my paintings and has featured my artwork on flyers advertising his events at ‘The Tower’.”

Togetherness Soul Weekender at the Tower

Well, for me, what started out being a trip to a local community café in Hyde has turned out to be a brilliant time chatting with, who I consider to be, one of our very best local artists who produces work that also reminds me of my childhood and the places I’ve visited, which on viewing takes me back to when I was a ‘kid’ growing up in Manchester. Thank you so much Steven, the pleasure was all mine!

Here is one particular painting that reminded me of those cold winter days visiting our outside ‘privy’ doing what comes natural, obviously with a Steven Bruce twist, and I just couldn’t stop laughing when I first saw it!

Today’s Headlines Become Tomorrow’s Toilet Paper

Currently, Steven has two exhibitions running until the end of September, one inside Ashton-under-Lyne Market Hall, and the other inside the Pavilion Café, St Annes.

You can up to date about what Steven is up to here.

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Bob Alstonhttps://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/author/bobtamg/
Tameside reporter, website and magazine designer and editor.

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