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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Andy Cropper

Bus Stop Gothic, 2018, acrylic and oil on canvas

Bus stops, tram tracks, alleyways. Andy Cropper takes these ordinary, unremarkable, utilitarian places – the sorts of places we pass every day – and turns them into quietly, almost eerily beautiful oil paintings.

With his paintbrush, Andy has managed to create scenes of surprising wonder from such everyday subjects as the "welcome" sign at the entrance to an NCP car park, market stalls on King Street, the Wickes car park on Moore Street, and construction work on Bramall Lane.

The Sheffield-based artist is bringing his latest set of realist paintings to Cupola from Saturday 8th June (launch evening on Friday 7th) for the next edition of his Uncertain Spaces exhibition series – this time on the theme of Kenopsia, meaning the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.

How would you describe your work?
I'd call my style painterly realism, showing a variety of urban cityscapes, scenes and things within the shadows and street lighting of night here in Sheffield. On a first look my work appears photographic but on closer inspection it's way too painterly for the photo-flat finish usually associated with the painting style known as 'photo-realism'. I like that people can see the blobs of paint, the errors and marks made by my hand. You can see that someone's made these paintings as opposed to them being mechanically produced.

How do you choose the themes you work with?
The images I choose to paint are collected from many walks that I've done over the past few years – wandering through the city streets and looking for spaces and places seeing that somehow impinge on me. Seeing if some places or spaces have a tension (bit of a hard term to describe). Basically I'm looking for things that have something mysterious about them without knowing why. I'm not interested in beauty or something being 'cool'. It could be something strange about a light, a bus stop (I paint many bus stops), a building, a car park, anything really. These things are usually very normal and everyday but for a moment, often accentuated by the shadows and lights of night, there's something else going on. They become different. That's the point I'm interested in and I take a photo. After taking the photograph I'll consciously try not to think about what I've just seen until I start considering painting. It's a big element for me that, when I start painting, I start constructing some semblance of meaning of what's in the painting at the same time as I construct the work. To my mind it's what keeps me engaged with the work.

Welcome, 2018, acrylic and oil on canvas

Wickes Car Park, 2019, acrylic and oil on panel

Most of the photos I collect from the walks don't work, for a variety of reasons. They've lost that special uncanny something when viewed on a computer screen. But usually there will be one or two that do hold my attention and it's those that I develop.

What's your workplace like?
The studio I work from is set up in my attic. Over many years it's become more than a bit crammed with paintings, materials and equipment, but there are large windows that look over the roofs of Lowfield towards Meersbrook Park and I have my workbench in front of those windows. There is a touch of the romantic “artist working in a garret” thing, but in my case it's Highfield not Paris.

What, who or where should be better known in Sheffield?
I'm surprised that a much wider range of artists that should be well known in the city are not. I don't mean within the art scene, but in the city at large there are so many painters, sculptors, makers, and creatives of all kinds who seem not to be noticed. Names that I feel should be better known: Sean Williams [who also writes for OFP!] , Rita Kaisen and Janie Moore are doing really fascinating, engaging and sensitive work but somehow they're overlooked in a way I find really surprising.

What would you change about the city?
Sheffield should stop looking for large corporate or international entities to bring a huge load of money into the city; several times in recent years there have been fanfares over certain projects that have ended with huge whimpers. We should start treating the people that live here as an asset and something to be valued. What would happen if the folks in Arbourthorne, Gleadless and the Manor were invested in? – and I don't mean by odd social projects that last a year and then close, I mean start asking the folk there exactly what they want from their city and what they want to engage with and what they themselves can do for the city. Include folk that aren't usually part of the Sheffield development conversations. There could be answers and suggestions that could be incredibly nuanced and forward thinking. As it stands it's very clear large groups of people in Sheffield feel sidelined about what the future of Sheffield is going to be and I don't see that changing any time soon.

What are you working on at the moment?
I've just finished the last few paintings for a show of new and some older work taking place at the Cupola Contemporary Art Gallery here in Sheffield, called Uncertain Spaces: Kenopsia. So at the moment I'm finishing off all the odd details of my work, from getting the paintings ready to hang to social media awareness (you can follow me on Instagram / Twitter / Facebook), that sort of thing.

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