Shaun Smyth, painter and Lee Harrison, photographer, have been documenting the Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. The concept is to show the complex machinery, building and the people of the power plant, provided the power that drove a 20th century industrial Britain.
The coal powered plant now in its last days of existence is on a scheduled close down by the end of March as the demolishers move in on the 31st. Fiddlers Ferry is one of the last five remaining coal fired power generation stations in the UK. It covers a huge amount of ground, and over the years it has seen an ironic nature spin off for the wildlife and water fowl, which have taken advantage of the ‘use’ of water the plant used for as a cooling agent and steam generator. Fiddlers famous Cooling towers can be seen across the North West of England with spectacular shows of steam rising to the heavens. One of the many images caught on camera, on video and in painted images by Smyth and Harrison.
The End Game is the demolition – which will be a visual spectacular, especially when the enormous towers come down. Yet there will be a touch of sadness about the whole closure. Despite the 21st century awareness that coal fired power generation needs to be stopped, for the good of the delicate balance of the environment as it is today, this power plant has been an iconic emblem of the North’s contribution to the wealth of the British Nation. It stand for a progressive, can do will do attitude, when it comes to independence and non-reliance on outside providers of essential energy requirements for a nation.
Shaun, Lee and Denis Taylor at Fiddlers Ferry in front of the first completed painting
Smyth and Harrison and to a great extent with the inspiration, ideas and support of the [silent] third member of the project (Denis Taylor artist and editor of Tubes) will present a two part set of exhibitions. One of the first will be at the fabulous Pilkington Glass Museum in St Helens (November 2020), with further venues that will be offered the current completed works (paintings, photographs and video) for the show: “Fiddlers Ferry as it Stands” and a follow up show: “Fiddlers-Ferry as it Falls.” both shows acting as historic records – a complete record which one imagines will be permanently housed in an industrial dedicated Museum for future generations to view as an historic visual education.
written by Denis Taylor Artist and Editor for painters TUBES magazine
“…In the days where the art academies dictated what fine art painting was and what it wasn’t, it was only historical art that was regarded as the ‘defacto’ work to be taken ‘seriously’ all genres of art came in second, third and fourth in the order of importance.
The art game changed however with the onset and public popularity of the Barbizon painters, Corot, Alexander Cozens, Poussin, J.M.W. Turner and perhaps more powerfully for the UK, (albeit belatedly), John Constable. It was these painters that forced the institutions to reassess their bias as to what sort of work should be viewed as ‘serious art.’
In many way ways this highlights the art world of today, but in an absolute opposite standpoint . Today historical art is seen as dead and buried – no one is interested in recording an historical event as such – unless of course it’s a radical arts led concept to undermine the social political establishment. Of course that sort of Art is sometimes needed – if only to ensure our rulers are kept a close eye on, but this type of imagery in ‘visual art’ is ineffective as far as making an impact or an effect on society is concerned. Social media, Twitter in particular, has taken on that role gladly, ridiculing the powerful, as and when required. Which it does rather well with total freedom and a huge helping of negativity….”
So…a few years ago, I came across a fellow visual artist (Shaun Smyth) who was actually recording something of historical note as by way of a change, my interest was aroused. After a few conversations and more importantly, viewing the actual brilliant sketch works created in the artists studio…
…I encouraged the support ofpainters TUBES magazine to back the artist and the exhibition whole heartedly. That exhibition was to be called “Constructing the Mersey Gateway Bridge.” The title given from an amazing governmental instigated [new] long needed infrastructure project, one which would create an actual gateway from the Mersey area to the rest of the North West of England.
It was a part of the ‘regeneration of the old industrial towns’ that have been ‘neglected’ for six or more decades – It was a significant structure in both intention and actual physical presence. The Mersey Gateway Bridge was completed and officially opened on the 4th June 2018 by Queen Elizabeth ll of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Three years prior to the bridge opening for traffic. Shaun Smyth had already been sketching and painting the beginnings of it from the onset of the bridge construction. By 2018 Shaun had created dozens of examples of the bridge showing every stage of it’s construction. Luckily, the artist passed the structure every day on his way to his art teaching job at a local School.
Shaun eventually produced a mass of work – Large, small and medium in his own style.The actual paintings tended towards realism but with contemporary flashes of paint applied loosely with absolute skill and passion. As a local born and bred artist, Shaun added a non-apologetic large creative slice of regional pride.
painters TUBES magazine created and funded the prodcution of the catalogue and the media push, ensuring this important serious art was exhibited in a way that both the work and the project deserved. In this aim the first sign of success came in the form of support from the Brindley Theatre, the Hatton Borough Council, [+painters TUBES magazine] and Bell Lamb and Joynson Solicitors, all of whom ensured that the show became a reality from the 18th February 2018 to 5th April 2019- (please click here to read the: Exhibition Catalogue on line).
During the course of preparation for Mersey Gateway Bridge exhibition it came to the attention of Shaun that an historical icon of the area was on the brink of being ‘de-commissioned’ – That iconic structure was an incredible landmark of the North West of England known as Fiddlers Ferry Power Station – One of five coal fired stations still operational in the UK. For me, it was obvious that these two subjects should be brought together. The new Mersey Gateway Bridge – And the past glory of Coal Fired Power stations. The Fiddlers Ferry still holds an enormous historical importance in the hearts and the minds of people of the North West of England. And unlike the bridge, it was an integral piece of fantastic technology that was born out of the industrial revolution, the revolution that physically put the word ‘Great’ as a prefix to ‘Britain.’
Despite the understandable decisions to change how power is generated for national consumption for the 21st century (to reduce carbon emissions), for the benefit of the environment, Fiddlers Ferry should be given the respect it so richly deserves. Especially for the generations of people it has served and to provide historical reference and a narrative for future generations. It was with this in mind that myself, Shaun Smyth and Lee Harrison came to the conclusion that it was an Art project very worthy of serious attention.
So far, the new project has advanced quickly with Shaun, Lee and myself discussing the narrative and planning various concepts of presentation of the project in a public space. We discussed how various segments like video, photography, interviews of the staff could be shown along side oil paintings that are both realistic and some abstracted visions, all integrated into one visually powerful exhibition with a potentially huge public interest, especially in the North of England.
above (from left): Shaun Smyth, Lee Harrison and Denis Taylor of Tubes who has advised and guided the project from its onset. Behind Shaun and Lee is the large painting of Fiddlers Ferry Power Station created by Shaun.
With the go ahead for access given for the project from Fiddler Ferry, Shaun immediately launched into an ambitious painting of the ‘outside view’ of the station. This work will underpin future exhibitions and also give an immediate visual reference to the scale of the Fiddlers Ferry power plant. This oil on plywood painting, measuring 1200mm x 4800mm wide (4 ft x 16ft) is the first of a planned number of major works (to be created by Shaun)that the project will exhibit – And hopefully in more than one location in the North West of England.
The project will continue until Fiddlers Ferry has totally vanished from the landscape (in 36 months) – inbetween time the project is looking to hold a number of smaller exhibitions in immediate the local areas where the public can follow the ambitious project during its journey – as it documents this architectural, technological and quite incredible icon of the 20th century.
Above: Shaun Smyth and Lee Harrison at the pre-opening of the Mersey Gateway Bridge Exhibition at the Brindley. Photograph by DenisTaylor
Both the Mersey Gateway Bridge and Fiddlers Ferry Power Generating Station are equally important for the whole of society – one showing the path for the future – and the other respecting the achievement of the past – Both linked intrinsically with the people of the North West of England and far beyond the shores of the United Kingdom.