Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am

About Me (Lies)

I was born in Burnley in Lancashire in the summer of 1977, emerging into the world as a seven foot athlete with a huge and impressive beard that is still legend in various parts of the sub-continents. Growing up in a fading mining town peppered with steadily closing mills taught me what no money, no future and no hope all looked like. Burnley is also where all the rain in the world comes from. What a good start I had.

Everyone in Burnley has a peculiar look to them, a look that might once have been sadness but is now a sort of determined grit etched into their faces. I was twelve before I realised that if you turned the corners of your mouth up instead of down you could use it to smile. Nobody else seemed to have worked this out. Here was a place and a time where you had to have a rich sense of humour just to get through breakfast and to be appropriately prepared when faced with long periods of acute boredom; skills I have maintained well into adult life and utilise every time I go to work at the office.

I should point out nice and early that this isn’t some Northern backstreet ‘rags to riches’ story. It’s much worse – we couldn’t even afford rags… Not really. We had lovely rags. My family were a long way off starving poor and we didn’t live in a damp shoebox with an outside toilet on the hard shoulder of the M65. Once a year we even had beef. Even middle class England in the late seventies and early eighties was a generally thrifty place; most people couldn’t afford their own back teeth and the working classes had to queue to get horses to chew their bread and dripping for them. True. You were considered quite well-to-do if your Mum shopped at Kwik-Save.

Honestly, that’s not even a joke.


Here’s an appropriately traumatic example of family budgeting- my Mum once ‘modified’ my Sister’s well worn turquoise toweling swimsuit to make me some swimming trunks instead of just buying some, saving about £3 but destroying my dignity, so there you go. They smelled of ‘girl’ and, yes, toweling is the material that towels are made of. It helps you learn to swim at an accelerated pace because they soak up all the water and will drag you to the bottom of the pool if you don’t paddle like the clappers. Or if you don’t want people to see you in your hand-me-downs. Naturally, events like this have scarred me beyond the bounds of modern counselling methods.

Anyway, on with the arty stuff. I have always been a keen drawer although I never mastered it and probably never will. It is by far the most infuriating use for a Pencil. As a child I used to make felt-tip comic book adaptations of all my favourite movies, using all my Dad’s office paper and murdering his stapler. I remember this occupying me for hours on end and developed my early disdain for copyright laws. And staplers. I actually pursued a life in art accidentally by sort of bumping into it, causing it to wobble and then fall on me. At school I chose to study it because the alternative was cookery and I am one of the few people you’ll meet who can actually render a pan of baked beans wholly inedible. Excellent alternative to concrete though.

As a teenager, shortly before cider taught me how to fall off park benches, my hobby was painting fantasy war figurines. Girls did not exist in those days. My family knew I was painting something but forgot to be interested in what it was and so my hobby was misinterpreted by an Aunty and Uncle who reactively bought me a set of watercolours and a watercolour sketch pad one Christmas. I received it with a fake smile and a well acted “thank you” and promptly stashed it under my bed where it remained for over a year. If that makes me sound like an ungrateful brat then that’s probably because I was. I have since come to understand that there are starving kids in Africa who could’ve used that pad to dig a Well.

During our final school summer holiday, our art project was to produce works on pretty much any subject we wanted in whatever media and so suddenly the watercolour set was exactly what I needed. I was still stuck in pre-pubescent Middle-Earth so I copied a drawing of a Dragon from a sketchbook I sort of stole and set about painting it and lo and behold!

It was rubbish.

But I was enthusiastic. Nobody else in the class drew Dragons. I see now that this did not mean I was “pushing boundaries”, it meant I was that guy who drew Dragons. Art was not my highest grade at GCSE level and I did not make international headlines with my fantasy paintings, but it was the one subject that I would skip other subjects to be in (eg. ‘History’. Awful. Stop teaching kids about Crop Rotation and get straight to the bloody War!)) and suddenly I found myself at age sixteen with a vague idea about where I was headed.

Sort of.

Not really.

Oh, and I worked out what Girls were for as well.

Still haven’t mastered those either.

I got onto the art course at the local college purely on the strength of a pencil drawing of a spool of string; somehow I wish I was joking about that. It was the only picture I’d done of something that actually existed. Nobody understood how great Dragons were. The three years studying there were funded by my Dad, bless him, who probably wished I was as interested in being in the Navy as he was interested in me being interested in being in it. However, he was happy to see me happy and he always encouraged me but he was unsure as to how I would ever earn a living from art. Even now, he still funds me, is still happy to see me happy and we are both unsure as to how I am ever going to earn a living from art. Apparently the Navy is where all my money would have been.

I loved college and I loved that time of my life and, after a bit of a bland first year in terms of ability (I was shit), I was starting to become a pretty convincing student. Not a convincing ARTIST, just a convincing Student. I could definitely make you believe I studied stuff.

Academically I did OK and was also writing and painting my own comics in my spare time (having outgrown Dragons I was now into Super Heroes. Still not sorted that whole ‘Girl’ thing). At this point some idiot tried to put a computer in front of me. The Graphics department had one single Apple Mac which was so sacred that students were sort of frowned on for asking to use it and then suspiciously spied on once they had cleared security. If a student used it too much they would simply ‘disappear’ one day and never return again. This happened often enough to arouse suspicion and the computer became a sort of hyper expensive Talisman of Death. I seem to remember that a colour print from it on glossy paper cost about the same as a yacht. As a result I resolved to leave technology to the privileged and the suicidal and learned to do everything by hand and eye, something that helped me stand out for years until computers became cheap and easy and brilliant. Even today I hate them passionately.

They are all bastards.

University was very different. Not in a good way. Mostly I was discouraged by it. I studied my degree in Bradford, a place where it is deeply unwise to have the surname ‘Sutcliff’ or to be from Lancashire. All the other students knew more than me and were considerably better than me at painting and illustration and remembering when and where the lectures were happening. I made headway into combating my knowledge defecit by spending every lunch time in book shops reading up on artists and purchasing an entire library of art books. This was expensive so I used credit cards instead of real money. My credit card company started writing letters of gratitude to me instead of sending bills. I still missed all my lectures. I dyed my hair green and had to be polite to the prostitutes who mustered where I parked my car. They definitely never found out my surname.

In the second year things got progressively shitter until we were handed a project about tower blocks and demolition sites. Beyond anything else this was a significant development point for me and the only time at Uni that I produced good work. Burnley had just evacuated twenty old council tower blocks on its Trafalgar Housing estate and was now set to demolish them over the summer. I would regularly break through the construction company’s security fence and investigate the emptied flats taking photo’s, making sketches and obtaining trophies and keep-sakes to make art out of. Some Gypsies arrived in an armada of caravans and were also ransacking the flats but they were very friendly toward me as it turned out we were stealing different things to each other. Naturally I had hidden my camera.

I had bags of reference material and free reign over what work came out of it, something clicked between my head and my hands and suddenly I was making interesting pieces of work that not only made use of techniques and materials that I still use today but also had a social commentary which immediately interested everyone. Well, about six or seven people. I was beginning to emerge.

In spite of this sudden spurt of ability and ideas, I dried up miserably in my final year. Artist’s block. I did all my final degree work in the last two months under constant threat of being failed and made to repeat the year due to “exceptionally low” evidence of having ever turned up. Astonishingly they seemed to have noticed my always empty chair. Thanks to inordinate quantities of caffeine I got enough work done in the eleventh hour and passed my Degree by the skin of my teeth. Such was my underwhelming low spirit that I never attended my final exhibition; I was well and truly done with education.

But at least I got a photo of me in a cape and a silly hat.

In the years that followed I continued to paint under my own steam, continuing my self tuition poring over artist’s monographs and getting creative with anything that didn’t run away fast enough. Starting with my own sketchbooks I moved onto working on canvas for the first time having never once touched it through six years of formal training. I have exhibited a couple of times in various locations/formats and for a short while I also taught painting and drama to adults with learning disabilities as part of the Shoestring Theatre Company in Portsmouth. More recently, a friend of mine paid me to paint some canvasses for the board rooms at his business and they actually came out really well. For the first time I realised that I was reaching a level that might be of interest to those with an eye and a mind for it. It only took me thirty years. Clearly I can’t do deadlines.

Someone convinced me to get a website together so that anybody could take a look and decide for themselves – and here we are. Now I’m wasting your time as well.


My Dad still doesn’t believe that you can make a living like this, but it turns out he had kept all the receipts from those years just in case.

The Long Walk

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!”

Billy Connolly.