He’s one of Britain’s most revered actors and has portrayed JMW Turner and LS Lowry onscreen – and now Timothy Spall has his own paintings hung in a solo exhibition in a London gallery.
Gallery owner Domenic Pontone asked Spall to create an exhibition after seeing his work at the Lowry Gallery in Salford, where 14 of Spall’s paintings were on display in an exhibition to celebrate the 2019 film release Mrs Lowry & Son. “Talk about being a little stunned,” Spall said. “I have always liked challenges but I said to myself: Jesus, can I do this?”
He eventually agreed and created 20 works over a six-month period. The resulting exhibition, Timothy Spall, Out of the Storm, will be at the Pontone Gallery in June and July. This will be Spall’s third appearance in an exhibition but his first solo show.
At the age of 15, Spall’s passions were art, theater, and army cadets. He was learning chariots with the cadet corps based at Clapham Junction, and at the same time learning about the Impressionists and Surrealists with regular trips to the Tate. “I became obsessed with the lobster phone,” Spall said.
He eventually chose theater, moving to Rada and the National Theater, but when given the chance to play Turner in Mike Leigh’s famous 2014 biopic Mr. Turner, he turned to painting again.
In preparation for the shoot, Spall received tutorship from a painting consultant, Tim Wright, who worked with him for two years. Spall ultimately won the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance in a film described by The Guardian as “an intensely enjoyable study of the great artist’s later years.”
Spall said Wright gave him a “basic art class” to help him familiarize himself with the role. “Tim gave me this old school painting class and we did everything from quick drawing and quick painting, outdoors, sketching to living drawing – all very intensively.
Spall said he knew he had “a certain ability”, but he only returned to painting in the film Lowry, when he painted incessantly between shoots and began to find his own style by basing his work on some of the 16,000 photos he took and put together on his computer.
“I started painting stuff based on some really strong images related to the mood and feelings I was having, and then all of a sudden it started happening,” he said.
Wright said Spall could have been a “very good pastiche artist” after working on a copy of a Turner painting in preparation for the biopic, and although Spall’s own paintings are mostly landscapes, they are a world away from Turner, Spall said. “These are great benchmarks to hit, no matter where you are or not by a millimeter. “
Wright described Spall’s work as being “in the tradition of the English landscape … but there are also surreal elements in there”. Spall wants to leave it up to others to criticize the work, and he said he was aware of how lucky he was to have an exhibition of his own paintings.
“Thousands of brilliant artists are never recognized and I am also aware of it,” he said. “It is not lost on me, because I had this opportunity when there are brilliant artists who do not stand out.”
Spall expects a negative reaction from an actor-turned-painter, but he said the discipline of learning to paint and then creating the work has dissolved any suspicion of impostor syndrome.
“I applied myself to this, not as an evening activity or a hobby, but as an absolutely determined thing. I hiked it and I did. I went through the whole process and I’m not an impostor because I did.