Stephen reveals how Manchester and maths influence his artwork
How would you describe your art?
I’d describe most of it as visualising maths. It’s using geometry but not how you used it in school. A lot of paintings of the North West use spherical geometry where straight lines appear to curve depending on how you look at them. Other paintings use different aspects of maths, and they end up looking more abstract or peculiar, and it’s the maths that really excites me.
Is painting a form of catharsis for you?
No – music is catharsis, but painting is compulsion. Painting is very good for me because I can do it on my own. If you’ve got the raw materials, you can make anything you want from them. As long as you do it right it lasts forever. It can be there long after you’re dead which is a very comforting feeling.
Do you come from a creative family?
I come from a scientific family, lots of biology, chemistry, and maths. My grandfather worked on the first computer. His mother was one of the first women to get a PhD. She was pretty tough; apparently, you didn’t want to p*ss her off because she’d put you in your place.
“Art is treasure…Art shows you’ve got this cultural heritage, and you’ve got this strength and pride for your own world.”
What inspires you?
Maths inspires me. Really mundane stuff like pylons and railways, power stations and things you don’t notice normally. All the big showy things that are made to look great aren’t that inspiring. I think the world is getting increasingly boring, but when things just fall into place it’s pretty cool.
What do you think makes Manchester special?
I love Manchester because it’s not pretending. It is amazing, but there’s no bullsh*t around it. It’s amazing because it’s crummy. If it wasn’t so crummy nothing would happen. If it was fancy and chic, it wouldn’t be Manchester. It’s got to be dirty, hasn’t it?… Oh, and the drizzle is ace. Enjoy the drizzle.
What’s it like to be an artist in Manchester?
There’s inspiration on every corner – that’s what beautiful and amazing. You don’t get such honesty on people’s faces anywhere else. I’ve also got a very good gallery – Clark Art.
What is the importance of art in society today?
It’s philosophy this! [Laughs] Art is treasure. I think that there’s a general leaning to make art distorted like everything else, but art is like silver, like gold: you buy it, you can use it and then you can still sell it on. It doesn’t decrease in value. If a society amasses treasure, then that strengthens the value of that society. Art shows you’ve got this cultural heritage, and you’ve got this strength and pride for your own world.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m exhibiting in Sweden and I’m presenting a paper at a maths conference. At the moment, I’m just trying to get some funding to go there and to develop some more maths-based artwork and get a big exhibition together. There’s crazy fun stuff to be had with maths! The stuff they teach you at school is just arithmetic, but there are ways that you can grasp mathematical ideas that don’t involve writing loads of sums.
What do you hope that people get from your artwork?
They can get whatever they want. They can either love it or hate it, but if they don’t feel anything about it then I’m not doing it right.