Preston Art For Preston People
Graffiti artist Shawn Sharpe has created some iconic art in Preston city centre including his now famous murals ‘Mother’ and ‘Rose in the Yellow Dress’. Alma Stewart chats to Shawn about his work, his latest mural and future plans
There can’t be many Prestonians who haven’t seen the stunning mural ‘Mother’ on the side of Howgarths on Church Street. Featuring a young woman holding the lamb of St Wilfred, Preston’s patron saint, it took Shawn five days, battling all types of weather and a maze of scaffolding to complete his first public artwork.
The reaction to the mural, which sits next to Preston Minster, was an explosion of positivity. Featuring the ‘PP’ Prince of Peace crest, often referred to as meaning Proud Preston, the mural evoked such a sense of pride that Shawn was inundated with positive messages, public comments and media attention. He said: “I didn’t expect the response it got. The owners of Howgarths, Amber Taverns, gave me a free rein to create anything. I wanted it to be Preston related but nothing that would jar against the beautiful church. It seemed fitting to include the Lamb of God and I wanted to create Preston’s crest as a focal point but in a creative way. Mother is a strong woman who guards the lamb and the city. I wanted to create a piece for the people of Preston, something that they can all take ownership of and feel proud of when talking about our city, Proud Preston.”
The dad of two from Brookfield, didn’t envisage a career as an artist: “Art wasn’t my favourite subject at school. I preferred sport,” he said. Shawn expected to follow in his dad’s footsteps by joining the RAF: “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I enrolled at Preston College at the Park School to study a foundation degree in art,” he added.
Shawn’s friends got him interested in graffiti. Shawn was taken under the wing of some of the artists and after three years of creating on disused walls and buildings, Shawn got really hooked, creating his Reasm tag. Shawn studied a degree in Illustration at Preston’s University of Central Lancashire but was still unclear on his career: “I painted kids’ bedrooms and washed pots in pubs all over Preston. Eventually, I became a graphic designer but then one offer of work came in which changed everything.”
Shawn was approached by the owners of Valiants Barn in Out Rawcliffe. He was commissioned to paint the barn however he chose and took two weeks to complete it. At one time, music festivals were held on this site and Shawn learned more techniques ‘on the job’ as he created his art to match this event space. This led to commissioned work from the Corona beer company and Revolution bars commissioning Shawn to paint inside their venues across the UK.
But it is Preston where Shawn’s heart lies. He has created a number of murals around the city centre which includes art on Cannon Street, in the Detroit bar, and at Slingers Ironmongers.
Only a couple of months ago, Shawn created his take on Preston’s Harris Museum’s most famous painting, Pauline in the Yellow Dress by Sir James Gunn, this time renaming Pauline as ‘Rose’. This was commissioned by Amber Taverns on the side of The Northern Way on Friargate. Shawn said: “After the massive reaction to Mother, I asked the locals in a Preston Past and Present Facebook group what they would like to see in the mural that was quintessentially Preston. Based on their 271 comments, I encompassed the Invincibles (the Preston North End team in the 1800s, completing the season unbeaten in both the league and the FA Cup, therefore becoming the first team ever to achieve the ‘Double’); the Preston Guild (a celebration held every 20 years that began in 1179) and Halewood & Sons bookshop which has traded in Friargate since 1867.”
Again, Shawn also encompassed the lamb sitting on Rose’s knee in the 12 metre mural instead of the white dog in the original painting. Shawn creates the images with his iPad then scales it up to the size of the wall in grids. “My ability to draw portraits is all self-taught,” said Shawn, “I’ve just improved each time I have created one.”
His most recent work for Amber Taverns is on the side of the Wheatsheaf pub, not far from Preston Docks. This time Shawn has nodded to Preston’s history of the cotton mills. ‘Betsy Leigh’ the mill worker was created to show both sides of this industry and features Ashton’s Tulketh Mill. Shawn said: “I wanted to celebrate our textile industry, I have my own story for this piece and what it means but I want the public to create their own stories. Mine shows the light and dark side of the industry. I’m sure many people have parents and grandparents that worked in the mills, it’s been 50 years since they shut. In another 50 years, we won’t have anyone around to tell of their experience of working in them so keeping the history alive is important. Thanks to SWAT Access for helping me with the equipment to complete the job. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
With all of his recent exposure, Shawn hopes to create more of an art’s scene in the city. He explained: “Preston has undergone some recent regeneration and it’s a good opportunity to create more culture in the city. So many students come to study art here but take their talents elsewhere. There has been peak and troughs with the arts scene in the city but with the closure of the skate shop Scene, a hub for many creatives, many left to create in Manchester. But it would only take a few people to bring back the art culture to Preston. I’m trying to bring a gallery of art to the streets of Preston, supporting more local artists. It has the potential to bring artists from all over the UK and set Preston as a cultural centre.”
Shawn has recently worked with primary school children in an art workshop. And would love to extend this to community-based projects: “It’s a way of getting younger people and those of the edges of society to come together and create something. I’d love to be able to create jobs around these types of projects,” he added.
As for future murals, Shawn is keeping tight-lipped as he is currently in negotiations with something huge somewhere in Preston. And although he has created some fantastic work, there is one building he would love to work on: “The Unicentre on Lord’s Walk would be amazing to paint. Each side is so huge I could create all sorts!”
So watch this space for Shawn’s next big project. He didn’t want to end the interview without expressing his gratitude to all the people of Preston: “I am amazed at the support have had from businesses and Prestonians of all ages. I know of people that never venture into the city centre but have made a special trip just to see my work. I love creating Preston-related work so a massive thank you to everyone who has shown me such overwhelming support.”