Featured Artist: Michael Ashcroft

This month’s featured artist is Michael Ashcroft who became a member of MAFA in 2011. Michael was recently elected as a Full member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and was awarded the Alan Gourley Memorial award for Excellence 2020. We’re catching up with him to find out about why he became a painter as well as his future plans after Covid.

What made you want to become a painter?

Art was part of my life from an early age. My Mum enjoyed art and we always had her artwork hung around the house. Art was the subject that I was best at during school and I experimented with airbrushing and paint. I thought about going to art school but my Dad found me an opportunity to earn some money at an engineering company working as a sheet metal worker. For many years I followed this career path and just painted in my spare time.

When I was 28, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour – this changed everything. After the operation I was left with lose of hearing in one side and difficulties with speech and swallowing. Looking in the mirror I saw myself – there was such a contrast between the left and right side of my face. I felt I had to paint my reflection and had a desperate need to create.

Throughout the 1990s I painted every day – my technique is largely self-taught. Eventually I decided to give up my job at British Leyland and earn my living as a professional artist.

Which artists have inspired you?

John McCombs encouraged me in my early career and I admire the loose sketching technique he uses within his paintings. I regularly visit galleries in London and love Constable’s sketches in the V&A. Seeing these for the first time encouraged me to started sketching and painting ‘en plein air’.

Influences on my work change all the time, from Turner to Sickert to the Glasgow Boys. I also follow artists via social media including several American artists on Instagram.

What effect has Covid had on your work?

‘In terms of day to day routines – not much has changed. My studio is in my garden and I escape there to paint. I am currently working on two large commissions.’

‘The thing that I have missed is meeting up with the Northern Boys to paint ‘en plein air’, outdoors in natural light and weather. Being an artist is isolating and it is great to be part of this group. We are all at different levels but through painting together we have all learnt from each other. The group is made up from other MAFA members including Rob Pointon, Adam Ralston, Norman Long, Steven Smith along with Ian Layton, Chris Slater, Andrew Farmer, David Allen and Haidee Jo Summers. We usually take painting trips together to Seville and Venice which we have been unable to do this year.’

The Conversation by Michael Ashcroft showing an animated conversation in a bar in Manchester.

‘I also miss going to art galleries and would love to see Grayson Perry’s Art Club exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery once it reopens. My favourite gallery in Manchester is the Whitworth. I went there after every hospital appointment – I would walk around the beautiful spaces and look at the art – it was very uplifting. I never thought about art as a way to earn money, creating artwork for me was a way for better health and well-being.’

What do you think makes a successful painting?

‘Everything is subjective, I always like to get a second opinion and I usually ask my wife. It is a fine balance producing work that appeals widely and is saleable and being true to yourself and your own style. It has taken me many years to get this balance right.’

Saturday Afternoon at the Sun Tavern, Bethnell Green by Michael Ashcroft showing the entrance to the pub.

What are your plans for the future?

‘I’d like to do more painting ‘en plein air’. I had hoped to return to New York for a few weeks to complete some painting in the city however this had to be put on hold. I hope to return there later this year. I’d also like to travel around Spain and paint as I go.’

‘In terms of exhibiting, I’d like to show more work with the New English Art Club , MAFA and the Royal Society of British Artists. I also have a solo show planned for the Contemporary 6 Gallery based on my work from New York and other urban landscapes. I would also love to see one of my paintings purchased for a permanent art collection such as Manchester Art Gallery.

Painter's Retreat Lancashire by Michael Ashcroft showing Lancashire landscape with fields and trees.

Category: Featured Artist,News