Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Ollie the Manchester Situationist?

Visiting Manchester from Canada a few years ago I used to go for a pint with Jim in The Temple of Convenience, a converted underground toilet. I don’t think it had that fancy awning then.

Flickr image by chairmanblueslovakia

The barman there was the genial and amusing Ollie, an art student or ex-such, as I recall.

Ollie, I now learn, is Oliver East and has produced a series of booklets which Jim showed me, detailing in text and drawing his walks around -- or, usually, out from -- Manchester. Three of these have now been published in a handsome book:

Trains are… Mint
is published by Blank Slate. I got it from Amazon but I believe Waterstones (UK) have it. Ollie follows train lines as far as he can, but the book is about his walks, wherever they took him.

It’s like a graphic novel in style and it’s the sort of thing that makes you want to go and do it yourself because it looks effortless and is so effective. Ollie started off sketching and writing notes in a notebook, but found it too embarrassing and sometimes frightening when violent-looking locals stared at him, so instead of sketching he started taking photos and doing the drawings at home, though he continued writing and getting stares. Evil looks, threatening approaches, belligerent youths, crazy people, sex maniacs, perverts, malevolent officials and vicious dogs are the constant accompaniment of his travels. The purlieus of Manchester are a decayed dystopia touched with beauty.

As a draftsman Ollie is clearly no Hockney but his drawings work beautifully (sometimes he uses a sort of code -- not always intelligible but it doesn’t matter -- for representing cars, people etc) and his pages and double spreads look great. There’s some watercolour colouring of the drawings but it’s always minimal and the whole book hangs together not least because of the limited palate he uses.

I love the commentary. Sometimes it appears in notices and on signs that are supposed to be part of the scene he’s representing. The language and tone and attitude are those of -- well, I'm not sure how to characterise them: urban working-class-youth-ish, perhaps, though Ollie must be at least in his late twenties -- somewhat foul-mouthed, but it would seem only so to the impossibly middle-aged and respectable (so that’s not me then); rude, likewise -- disrespectful of officialdom etc -- devotee of football and popular television -- knowing about art -- very aware of and on the lookout for beauty, which he finds in certain views of stations, bridges, blocks of flats, cityscapes -- a real urban aesthetic: but also trees, countryside, sky -- and ladies serving butties in mobile canteens…. Spelling less than perfect. It’s a style that could make for a good novel or autobiography or something.

There's much more to it than these three sample pages can show.

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