I never thought I would be writing about motorways here. However two customers this week have pointed out that 2018 is the 60th anniversary of the first stretch of motorway in the UK. You might think it’s a strange thing for art lovers to bring up but they were appreciating our collection of Jen Orpin motorway paintings at the time. These paintings seem to have prompted much discussion and reminiscing and have proved very popular, particularly with men of a certain age.
The first stretch of motorway in the UK was the Preston Bypass, which opened in 1958 and is now part of the M6 motorway. It was built in Preston, rather than London, because the A6/A49 route through the county were becoming very troublesome due to the amount of traffic. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan carried out the official opening of the new “super highway” at Samlesbury, with traffic being allowed on it for the first time on 5th December.
Orpin’s motorway paintings appear to be from a parallel universe where the road can be experienced in daylight with no traffic. The artist remembers a time in the 70s when she was lifted out of bed in the early hours of the morning to travel along the motorway by car before the summer holiday traffic became too heavy. The colour palette and technique of painting in the edge of the compositions is reminiscent of a past era or an old photograph.
I too remember being carried in my pyjamas to our car in the early hours of the morning when we made our annual summer holiday trip to Wales. My dad always preferred to take the A roads instead of the M56 for this journey. Possibly so that we could keep stopping to appease my childhood travel sickness or perhaps because we always had to break down at least once and wait by the side of the road until dad fixed the car with a hairpin and a pair of my mum’s nylons (I presumed) then heroically got us back on the road.
The response to these paintings has been intriguing and wonderful considering that they are subjects that many of us may consider mundane. We have several artists in our current exhibition who ask us to consider the ordinary and to pause and look again: a telephone socket, a market stall after closing, a building site.
We have put a selection together in an online collection entitled ‘Look Again’. Click on the link below to take a look.