On the cover: Jen Orpin interview
Our cover art for the new issue of Delayed Gratification is A Bridge Too Far by Manchester artist Jen Orpin. Orpin graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 1996 with a degree in fine art. She stayed in the city, joining Rogue Artists’ Studios in 2000 and becoming an associate member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts in 2022. Her work, which since 2018 has focused on capturing empty motorways and their bridges, has been exhibited in galleries across the UK. Ahead of her new Manchester exhibition, Marcus Webb spoke to her about our cover art and her other work.
What drew you to painting motorway bridges?
In 2015 my dad had a stroke and was admitted to a hospital in Surrey. For three months I would make the drive down from Manchester on a Monday to visit him before driving back on a Friday. Down and up, down and up… M56, M6, M42, M40, M25, hospital. That journey was when I’d process everything that was going on and the various landmarks became my friends along the way. I knew that when I passed under the railway bridge over the M25 I had ten minutes before I was walking through the doors of the ICU. We lost my dad at Christmas in 2015 and I later painted a picture of that bridge and entitled it Significant Structure.
When did you paint A Bridge Too Far?
In 2018 I thought about creating a series of paintings around these landmarks. My friends thought I’d lost it – pictures of empty motorways? But there was something powerful there because it was so personal. A Bridge Too Far, which is of bridges across the M6, was one of the first I created. It gave me the confidence that this was a subject worth exploring.
Where is the original picture now?
A lady called Diana saw it in an exhibition and got in touch. Without knowing my story she told me that her dad had recently died, that he helped construct bridges on the M6 and seeing that painting brought everything back for her. She bought it and we met in a service station for me to hand it over and sat for an hour chatting about our dads. It’s been amazing seeing the responses to the paintings – I think it is because they’re about memories. The places between where you are travelling from and to can evoke as much of a feeling as the destinations themselves.
Why are the roads empty?
If I’d included people it would take control of the narrative. If a viewer is looking at human activity they’re drawn to it, but without that you’re the driver and it’s about your journey.
What can you tell us about your new exhibition?
It’s called ‘The Journey Continues’ and is at Saul Hay Fine Art in Manchester. It’s all brand new work and on weekends I’ll be setting up my easel in the gallery and painting there. People can come and talk with me about art, their experiences, anything really.
Is there a recent news story that resonated with you?
The Just Stop Oil protests [in which activists threw soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in October]. When I first saw what they’d done I was aghast. I hate mindless vandalism, but once I’d understood that the paintings were protected and unharmed it seemed like a creative piece of activism. Art has always been used to trigger emotions and convey messages, and the protesters used art in a clever way to do that.
‘The Journey Continues, New Paintings by Jen Orpin’ is at Saul Hay Fine Art, Manchester until 26th March. For further details see jenorpinpaintings.co.uk
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