Colin Taylor – LightSpace: A Year in the Round – Royal Exchange

Colin Taylor
Hobsons Choice – Image courtesy Colin Taylor


From 26th September simultaneously at The Royal Exchange Theatre and Contemporary Six Gallery

Following two recent successful solo exhibitions at Manchester’s Contemporary Six Gallery which showcased the city’s architectural landscape, artist Colin Taylor, has produced a series of paintings representing the Royal Exchange Theatre. Colin embarked on the year-long project LIGHTSPACE: A YEAR IN THE ROUND inspired by the Exchange’s architecture and the stories told both in and outside the theatre module. This has resulted in the creation of almost 40 paintings and drawings based on productions in the Exchange’s 2018 & 2019 seasons such as QUEEN MARGARET, MOTHER COURAGE, WEST SIDE STORY and HOBSON’S CHOICE.

Colin Taylor
Royal Exchange Theatre – Image courtesy Colin Taylor


Colin Taylor is an artist whose name will also be familiar to Mancunians following his commission for Spinningfields international architectural practice, Simpson Haugh. – ‘New Lines in Space’ in 2017

What many may not know is Colin’s passion for mountaineering. Something Colin has done for over 30 years. The amalgamation of painting and mountaineering came after Colin came across a book about the bushranger Ned Kelly by Australian artist Sydney Nolan. Colin was interested in the way that Nolan interpreted that landscape as a backdrop for a narrative in much the same way as a set design works in the theatre.

Born in Leicestershire Colin left Nottingham Trent University with a degree in Fine Art & Drama. following which he taught 20th Century Art History at a local FE College. In 1987 he re-located to Manchester, worked for The Guardian and Manchester Evening News and then worked for an advertising agency, eventually specialising in economic development and destination marketing.

As the opening of LIGHTSPACE: A YEAR IN THE ROUND  approached I spoke with Colin about his fascination with  mountaineering and how this has influenced his art.

Colin Taylor
Royal Exchange Theatre – Image courtesy Colin Taylor

B– How long have you lived in Manchester and do you consider yourself a ‘Mancunian’?

CT I’m probably not and probably never will be a ‘Mancunian’ in the sense I was born and grew up in Leicestershire and that feels like a label that should be reserved for those who were born here. That said after 33 years I have a strong affinity with the city, it feels like ‘home’ and  when asked, I usually say that I’m from Manchester.

B – When did you start mountaineering and how did this lead to your Lake District Walking Viewpoints

CTI’ve been climbing and walking in mountains for as long as I can remember and certainly longer than I’ve been painting – although not by much.

There was a time when my relationship with the Lake District was multi-channelled. In addition to that of a climber who visited its crags and mountains for personal enjoyment, I was also a small business owner, teaching others to climb, using its natural resources as a workplace. I was also working as a public sector manager involved in regional destination marketing & economic development.

Looking back, I came to realise that my experience of its landscape was not one of innocence but part of an ongoing dialogue about its history, use and management. Over time, I also came to realise that the paintings and drawings I had been making were not just some form of direct sensory response but about the convergence of a wider experiential context.

I can’t recall how I first heard of Thomas West or ‘A guide to the Lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire’, (1778) but it must have been around 2002 or 03 and it provided a structured framework for me to re-assess why I was interested in painting landscapes at a time when so much contemporary art had turned away from the genre

Royal Exchange Theatre – Image courtesy Colin Taylor

In his guide, West makes clear his intention is to encourage travellers to visit the area and sets out bite-size itineraries that enable them to experience, ‘all the select stations and points of view’, It is accepted to be the first tourist guide and employs a format that has been copied to this day, in print, on screen and online. A couple of years later using a contemporary OS map and a copy of the book, I began to search for each ‘station’, some more readily accessible than others and started work on a series of paintings and drawings that I’m still working on today.

B – What was the brief for the Simpson Haugh project?

Colin Taylor
No 1 Spinningfields – Image courtesy Colin Taylor

CTThe brief was quite simple. The architects, Simpson Haugh asked me to produce twelve paintings about – what was then – a new development project, namely; No 1 Spinningfields. That was it.

When I started to re-trace West’s footsteps I was making a comparison between what West described and recorded in the late 18th C, at the beginning of the ‘picturesque aesthetic and that I experienced two centuries plus, later. Developmental change (natural and man-made) was clearly evident but it was incremental and in contrast to the urban environment, permanent.

With No 1 Spinningfields, I had the opportunity to bookend the visual and structural transformation of a specific landscape over a timed period in one distinct body of work and for a ‘landscape painter’, and I think this is a rare privilege. The landscape changed as the building grew into the space created for it and in addition to the commissioned paintings, a series of other paintings where developed in parallel, which were exhibited at Contemporary Six a couple of years ago.

B – How did the Royal Exchange project come about?

CTTowards the end of the Spinningfields project I started to think about the relationship between architecture and the human form and wondered if I could document human movement around a building. The possibility of using the Royal Exchange building for this was just an idea until I knocked together a few thoughts and emailed them across and eventually this led to a cup of coffee and an exchange of ideas.

But the truth is, all we agreed was a starting point. Everything else came later.

Colin Taylor
Mother Courage – Image courtesy Colin Taylor

In the project press release Colin added…

‘Like many who have experienced the Royal Exchange, it is impossible not to stop to look up and around you. It doesn’t matter if this is your first or your hundred-and-first encounter with the space, this is what you do. ‘For a long time before this project, I had been curious about how the two architectural structures, one inside the other, could be represented in paint. From the outset, this reciprocal spatial relationship was always going to be a strong feature of the project, but it quickly evolved and extended to include some of the imagined landscapes created each month within the theatre itself. The other unplanned intervention has been a switch in emphasis toward the illuminated space cushioned and surrounded by the Theatre’s two defining physical structures. It’s a beautiful space and it’s been a privilege to spend my time working within it’.


Many thanks to Colin for his time in speaking to BeesBlogs.