Painting the Art and Soul of Our Cities; Martin Stuart Moore Impulsively Resigned from His Day Job as a Housing Officer and Inadvertently Revived a Forgotten Art Form
Byline: Peter Elson
CAPRICCIO isn't the latest caffeine-derived beverage in trendy coffee bars. As Martin Stuart Moore discovered when he wandered into a North West art gallery, it's a painting style practised by Canaletto and the other venerable Italian masters.
More specifically, Martin, a former council housing officer, was trying to sell a painting of his own, not realising it was a capriccio picture. He had unknowingly stumbled upon the form and only realised this fact when the gallery curator commented on it.
Capriccio is the means of creating a composition by gathering together the most interesting buildings from a place. Derived from the Italian, it means that the artist is being capricious about the truth.
Just as the director Alfred Hitchcock said his films were life without the boring bits, so capriccio discards the dull urban in-fill.
Nearly a decade ago, Martin painted a capriccio picture of Liverpool. After gradually attracting momentum, the last part of its 950-print run quickly sold out, to the chagrin of many more potential customers. In response, he's sharpening his pencils again in readiness to repaint the city in time for its 700th anniversary charter celebrations and the European Capital of Culture 2008.
Qualified as a town planner, Martin, aged 57, has always had an interest in the built environment, but apart from an art A-level has no artistic training. He says: ``I ground my way up through local government management until Mrs Thatcher clamped down on councils and the future of my department looked very grim. ''
He resigned from his job as assistant director of housing at Tameside Council, in Greater Manchester and, as a stop-gap, went to work in his father's hotel in the Midlands.
The departure from the hitherto cosily regulated local authority world was a shock. He says: ``People thought I'd gone round the bend when I left. It was worse than that -- I sort of jumped off a cliff. I must have had a lot of confidence back then -- or foolhardiness. Yet the politicking and bureaucracy in local government was getting me down. I couldn't cope with having to redeploy all our staff.
``I rather fancied being a painter and went out and drew a few houses. I then tried painting a village and someone looking at it asked if I could put this or that in it. From there I tried my hand at painting Cheshire towns starting with Alderley Edge, then Stockport, Wilmslow, Nantwich and Prestbury.
``As I love cities and looking at cityscapes, by then I felt confident enough to try Chester, and thought, `Why not Manchester?' After walking the city centre one day between 7 am and 2pm I felt I had a better understanding than I'd had over the previous 10 years, although I felt I knew it well before. ''
After finishing his initial pictures 15 years ago, Martin hawked his work round, including to gallery shops. He recalls: ``They were rather different in style to anything else and not the big publishers' style. ``My sales technique involved walking the streets going door to door. It was only when I was visiting Bolton Museum and Gallery that the curator said, `Oh! It's a capriccio landscape'. Until then I was calling them montages.
``Having to decide what's in the foreground and behind is the question I've got to come to terms with. I shied away from including figures in my early ones; in Chester I put my family in by the Cross and in Liverpool, my grandfather who was an agent for White Star Line, on the balcony of the company's headquarters.
``I walk the cities and take hundreds of photos and make lots of sketches of the buildings and topography. This time last year I spent three days continuously walking every street of Dublin city centre for my latest painting.
``Back at home with all my notes and pictures, plus books and maps, I try to recreate the feeling of the city in my little studio south of Harlech. …