Liverpool born and bred, Cliff Sayer still resides in the city. Having studied Fine Art here, he took a studio opposite the great Arthur Dooley’s in Seel Street, and soon was exhibiting his work at exhibitions. However, his connection with the local music scene started when in 2000 he began to make animations, and was quickly commissioned by the likes of Shack, Edgar Jones, Mike Badger and Mongooses to make animated videos for them.
Now he creates beautiful paintings, often with a surreal quality to them, as well as some portraits of the leading members of the local music scene. We caught up with him recently to discuss his work and creative manifesto.
Liverpool Noise: Having stumbled across your work on social media – and being totally impressed by the quality of your work – can you give the readers a brief synopsis of your personal art manifesto?
Cliff Sayer: My art is the outcome of a deep drive to create, either through painting, animation or music. The products of my creative cycles are cyclical in nature, as I become fully immersed in one medium at a time. My work is an unconscious outlet for my beliefs and observations about life, with an underlying spiritual element.
LN: What are your artistic influences?
CS: In childhood I was interested in drawing figures based on mythical creatures and religious icons. The early work of Pablo Picasso and the work of Velasquez; Caravaggio; Leonardo da Vinci; Peter Howson; Stanley Spencer; Steven Campbell;Lucien Freud and later metaphysical works by Dali.
LN: You seem, over the years, been very involved in the Merseyside music scene. How has that translated itself into your creative outcome?
CS: Art and music are obviously both vehicles for sharing passions and musicians and artists have a natural respect for each other. In Liverpool there are far more musicians than artists though animators are growing in number which is great news for the creative hub, I tend to paint only these days but I have animated for Mick Head; Pete Wilkinson and Aviator; Mike Badger, Edgar Jones, Yorkie, etc, the Scouse vibe going on with music is unique, no other city in the world has it, Liverpool is a very musical city, if you listen to Shacks ‘I Know You Well’, that bass and the drums, the guitar it is pure Liverpool, Merseybeat, that’s the vibe Liverpool has, even though the video was very tastily filmed in Paris. Anyway that’s what inspires animation, it inspires me to paint but I paint in silence. I have designed art for records; backdrops; promotion material and animations…
LN: You were a pioneer of the literalist movement in Liverpool. What was this, was it successful at the time, and where can we see its influences today?
CS: It was meant as ‘literally’ painting, art for art’s sake, that’s how I saw my own art, though not quite surreal it separates myself from any meaning, void of emotion, almost always figurative it went well and sold most of my work at the time, literalism attracted a few fellow artists keen to delve deeper into a very simple notion.
LN: I personally love your work that presents a jarring juxtaposition. For example, a golfer on top of a tortoise, or a military man on an ostrich. What’s the thought process behind these works?
CS: I regularly google old photographs, the older the better and paint them, the black and white is great to work from as I can then use my own colour, for some reason I googled tortoise and Charles Darwin, so I ended up with a Victorian photo of a giant tortoise and I thought ‘that’s actually living breathing dinosaur’ so I painted Darwin on top of a giant tortoise playing golf, quite strange really, the guy on the ostrich is a similar process vintage photos as reference with nothing but sky in the background.
LN: What are your local musical influences?
CS: Shack; The Las; Mick Head; Edgar Jones, Aviator, Mathew Reekie, Moongoose, The Coral.
LN: Once Covid is in the rear window, any plans for a solo exhibition?
CS: I’m not one of life’s planners, so living in the moment and creating from home, with the internet as my gallery has given me a platform to share my art, though I will be exhibiting somewhere once lockdown is over.
LN: Lastly, what’s your view of a) the local arts scene, b) the local music scene and c) the current cultural health of the city? Any tips for future greatness?
CS: All the restrictions of the lockdown haven’t focused on people keeping themselves both physically and mentally healthy. Creative expression of your feelings is an outlet for the complexities of life and the past year has given people the time to explore their own abilities and thoughts, so I would hope for an explosion of art, music, literature and poetry. It was desperately sad to see the close of the Zanzibar and I would hope that the city revitalises itself with small music venues and exhibition spaces. This is the prime time for a cultural change.