Andrew Marr interview: TV presenter debuts his art in Liverpool
Journalist and TV presenter Andrew Marr has, for decades, been interviewing Britain’s leading political figures and reporting on the moments which have shaped the nation.
Perhaps unknown to many though, he’s long been a keen painter focusing on landscapes until a major stroke in 2013 prompted a whole new creative approach.
Your Move caught up with Andrew as he launched his first solo exhibition, ‘Strokes of Colour’, in South Liverpool to raise money for stroke rehabilitation charity ARNI.
Interview by Natasha Young
Your oldest picture in this exhibition goes right back to 2007. Why did now seem like a good time for a first solo exhibition?
I was a very irregular painter through most of my life doing landscapes in a similar style – slightly impressionist with a pinch of David Hockney. They were interesting enough but not that good, in my view.
Then I had my stroke which meant, first of all, I couldn’t paint outside in the way that I used to because my arm doesn’t work, so I couldn’t put up easels and deal with canvases and paint in outdoor weather like rain and wind.
When you have a stroke you have to give up lots of things so I can’t run, swim, cycle, and ski, and this was yet another thing I had to give up.
Then I thought actually that’s crazy, because if I can have a place where I have complete control of the environment I can paint again. I’ve got myself a proper studio and that, in turn, means you have to paint differently because there’s nothing to look at. I’m not very interested in painting nudes, flowers or things you can arrange in a studio, so I thought ‘right I’m going to have to paint from inside of my head’.
The more important thing I’ve realised is I’ve always wanted to paint like this. I’ve always been much more interested in what people call ‘abstract’ painting.
I’ve never really thought I was good enough to do it and I put it off for another time. Then after a stroke I thought that actually, life is short and I don’t know how long I’m going to be around for but while I’ve still got the energy and the strength to do it I’m going to have a go.
I’m interested in where abstraction meets more realistic ideas, and how you can express emotion directly in oil paint without putting flowers and pots in the way. That’s what all of these [pictures] are really about.
Eventually I completely filled up my little studio. There was nowhere to move and I had all these canvases.
They’re kind of messages, like postcards to the outside world that I’d send off. I’d quite like other people to have them, see them and enjoy them and if they can then buy them and I can use the money to help a stroke charity at the same time, why not?
How important was painting to your rehabilitation after your stroke?
After a stroke, everything is harder to do and more boring. Everything moves more slowly, you drop things all the time, it takes ages to get dressed, you stumble in the shower. All those little day to day life things just become more of a pain.
What you need to do to keep your sanity, in a sense, is find other things which are exciting and keep you alive and vigorous, and that’s what these are.
There are nods to Liverpool in your collection as paintings have names like ‘The Three Graces’ and ‘The Merseyside Moon Rocket’. Is the city a source of inspiration to you, or do you have any connections?
I first came to Liverpool in the early 1980s on the People’s March for Jobs with Michael Foot addressing the crowds, but I’ve been coming here a lot for party conferences and visits.
My wife’s family are all from Widnes and that’s not very far, but I’ve always been a huge fan of the Liverpool Poets and Adrian Henri so Liverpool has meant a lot to me.
I was born in Glasgow, and Liverpool and Glasgow have a lot in common. They’re both Atlantic cities which look out to the sea, they’ve slightly got their backs on the rest of the country perhaps, and they have a very different, slightly radical feel to them.
I also think Liverpool is a great painting city. Again, like Glasgow, there are great painting traditions in Liverpool. It’s got the John Moores Painting Prize and serious proper painting galleries like Corke Gallery, and therefore it was a really obvious place to do the show.
Do you see crossovers between your political journalism career and your artwork, or is painting more of an escape?
Not really, it’s an escape. There are a few things which have political memories behind them.
There’s one painting here which was done on the day of the terrorist attack in Nice. Somehow in my head there was something about that.
There’s also one called ‘Parliament of Birds’. It’s like a parliament of crows, the old medieval thing, which is about the yakety, yakety in Parliament and politics.
Mostly [painting] is different, it’s a different part of my head.
“After a stroke everything is harder and more boring. What you need to do to keep your sanity, in a sense, is find other things which are exciting and keep you alive and vigorous.”
Lots of people have talked about how the recent general election was different to others, partly because of the way people engaged more through social media. Do you see your job being affected more by that side of things in light of that?
I use social media quite a lot. I tweet and hang on Twitter watching it and watching people criticising me, criticising the political system generally, and I use a lot of blogs for my information. I have done for a long time – blogs like Bella Caledonia which is a radical Scottish Nationalist blog; stuff you don’t get in mainstream press.
The fact social media galvanised so many young people, particularly on the left, this time means we’ll be looking at it even more seriously in future but I don’t think we should get into the position where the mainstream media are critiquing or are, in any sense, hostile to it.
There’s a whole area of jokes and fun that doesn’t appear in the mainstream media and does politics differently. We just have to be aware of that.
How does this politically eventful time compare to others during your career?
I started daily reporting at the high point of Thatcherism and so I’ve seen the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher in Parliament, the John Major government, the rows over the Maastricht Treaty and the attempt to assassinate John Major as Prime Minister. All of those fights, then the rise of Tony Blair and his extraordinary first government with all that massive optimism, and that crashing down with the Iraq war and so on. Then there was Brown, who I knew quite well, and then Cameron.
I’ve seen the whole thing and I’ll tell you, there is not going to be a more exciting year in the House of Commons or in Parliament than this year.
Why? Because the numbers are very close which means that night after night there’s going to be votes we don’t know the result of and, secondly, because the issues are really big.
Brexit is the biggest thing to happen to this country since the second world war, and what it actually means is it’s now going to be fought out night after night in the House of Commons where no party has an overall majority and that is, for a political journalist, about as thrilling as it gets.
Andrew Marr’s ‘Strokes of Colour’ exhibition is on display at Corke Gallery until 21 July. It’s free to enter from 1-5pm, Thursday to Saturday.