The Emotive Locomotive
Brian’s artworks portray his specific interest in the selected machines which performed on Britain’s railways between the 1960s and 1980s. His artwork first came to the attention of the enthusiast community in the early 1980s and more greatly so at the turn of the century, via the release of some of his oil works as limited edition lithographs. When he first saw paintings created by Terrance Cuneo and David Shepherd, he knew he at least ‘had permission’ to draw the particular machines that fascinated him. However, in terms of twined inspirations, the artists he most admires are generally not railway artists. Rather, they’re from the fine art world, past and present. Richard Estes, Denis Peterson, John Baeder and more recently, Fidel Molina and David Kassan are the kind of realist painters evolving out of the 1960s and since, that have had the greatest influence. They court Brian’s attention for their abilities to control colour, create eye-seeing realities and optical illusions of depth - rather than what a camera lens sees. Impressionists too (though a style far from Brian’s own) retain some influence on him, Walter Sickert, Lucean Freud, Eduard Vuillard, Cyril Mann and youngsters now like Rob Pointon, all fascinate for the way they work with light, environmental conditions and for the oily, free way in which they work.
The 1950s and ‘60’s were arguably the last great human design age, where human-crafted, hand-built machines resulted from someone having to sit and from the mind, draw these things out and every single component they contained. That humanizm in machines like these is, absolutely, something recognizable in all those now labelled ‘classics’ - be they old vessels, aircraft, old vehicles or motorbikes. The twin to Brian’s artistic inspiration are these now classic locomotives, which of course looked and sounded like nothing else. They were imbued with the engineering ideas and compromises of the day, those of the designers, engineers and the craftsmen who built them. They therefore included many human short-comings, foibles and fallibility. While reliable, capable and in possession of robust and admirable qualities, their identifiable handicaps, oddities, oversights and sometimes temperament, were part of their ‘character’. Not unlike their steam-powered predecessors, they’re recognized, written about, photographed, filmed and painted, because machines like these possess traits beyond their mere utility.
Scruffy, weather-worn and battle-scarred machines in the late stages of their operating lives are still today greatly favoured by Brian as subjects. “They have much more of a story to tell”. These were working machines and so portraying them as rough as they sometimes became, adds depth on more than one level. Even though the machine may be stationary, in a portrait for example, it shouldn’t look inert. They have to look like they’re made of metal, that they’re heavy, that they have some effect upon their operating environment and that environment is clearly having some effect upon them. There is often history to every individual machine, as these were not members of fleets of bland identikits. By the end of their service lives, they bore all the evidence that set each fleet member apart from one another. In the compositional pieces, there is of course much more going on, by creating impressions, presenting effects, or by the inclusion of a human element, in order to guess at other stories. Like leading theatrical characters in a Shakespearean tragedy, these locomotives performed on some of the grandest stages and Brian’s work is on the way to capturing some of that, including some of the most greatly admired lead players, in his work.