Thursday, I headed over to Manchester to meet artistic genius, Stephen Lynn at the Abel Heywood pub in the Northern Quarter. If you aren’t familiar with Stephens work, he creates some of the most eye catching and stunning portraits that I’ve ever laid my eyes on. He’s been described as the ‘Pencil Poet’ and ‘Pop art on steroids’ which I feel is a pretty accurate description. Working from a studio in Oldham, his fans include some of the biggest musical legends to come out of Manchester, including Ian Brown, Liam Gallagher and Rowetta Satchell. He’s recently fulfilled a dream of his to design an album cover, creating a jaw dropping design for Twisted Wheel’s highly anticipated album ‘Satisfying The Ritual’. I caught up with him to get an insight behind these stunning pieces of art.
Over a pint of Moretti, Stephen told me how he was born in Warrington but was now living in the Northern Quarter in central Manchester. He told me that he always was into art from an early age and gives high praise to his Auntie for acquiring the love of art…
‘My Auntie Tina was a great artist she used to sit with me and teach me how to draw trains, that’s where I kinda picked it all up’
Once Stephen reached sixteen, he attended North Cheshire College studying Art for 3 years but it wasn’t from then that he turned his talent into a fulltime career.
‘After college, I basically bummed around and did absolutely nothing with my artwork’ he laughs ‘I used to doodle still, I remember working in a call centre on the headsets and people would look at my doodles of people and be like how the hell you drawn that?!’
Time passed and Stephen settled down, had a son and worked in sales. It was the breakdown of his relationship that threw him back into his passion.
‘The breakdown of my relationship about ten years ago was kind of a turning point, I felt like I was going a bit crazy. So, after a twenty year break I thought I’ll get back into it. Since then I’ve never looked back. I got some pens and a canvas and the first piece I did was Ian Brown, I slowly built up a momento and pursued doing the art full time. It was funny because again a lot of my friends had no idea I could draw, so it was quite a shock when this Ian Brown picture appeared one day!’
Stephen continued to draw, but tragedy struck when he lost a close friend in a car crash that which understandably really affected him, the grief bled into the vibrancy and colours in his work.
‘I was in a car crash and sadly lost one of my best friends, it put me into a period of depression which reflected in my art and I went through a black and white period around that time. As time went on and my grief started to lift and some colour came back into my life. I experimented with a Liam Gallagher picture where I added some blue and people really liked it. I put it out on Facebook and the reaction was great. I got more and more confidence and as times gone on, I’m using more and more vivid and bright colours.’
It’s clear speaking to Stephen that he’s a very passionate music fan especially of the Manchester scene, I was interested to know how he learnt to incorporate his two passions and where his inspirations came from…
‘Well, I was always into music, it was a huge thing in my Mum and Dads house. Listening to The Jam, Joy Division and The Smiths and all those them bands I’m into, I’ll draw them. I’d listen to songs then it’d inspire me to draw the artist. The Andy Warhol Velvet Underground album cover was a huge inspiration to me and I guess you could definitely say my dream was to get my artwork onto an album cover.’
Andy Warhol has clearly been a big influence, I asked Stephen where that stems from and what was his favourite piece of his…
‘I just think the whole things he had going on and the bands around him, the hangers on, the films he made the whole thing was really cool, especially New York at that time too. The hippest city to be in. I love that cover of the Velvet Underground but it’s very basic, but it says what it is. I love the Elvis image he’s done, there are so many I don’t think I could pick a favourite.’
As with any new creative business whether it be art or music, promotion is vital to its success, I asked Stephen about his friendship with Rowetta and how it felt to have these big names supporting him.
‘It came about when one of my friends who’s a photographer, was shooting a Happy Mondays gig at Bowlers and he messaged me saying I took some photos last night and had a thought of you drawing one of my pictures. So I asked him to send them across, I had a look and thought I’ve done Shaun, I’ve done Bez but I haven’t done Rowetta so I thought right i’ll draw Rowetta. Once I’d drawn her, I put out a post out on social media which she saw and shared and everything just blew up. It’s great to have that kind of support, she’s very active on social media.’
It was just after an art exhibition at FAC251 last year, that Stephen hosted last year for the NSPCC, that he got to meet another of his idols, Ian Brown.
‘A few days after the exhibition, I’d met a friend for breakfast at The Castle pub in the Northern Quarter and as were stood outside Ian Brown walks round the corner I was like this is crazy. We got chatting and he said he’d come round mine to sign a piece of artwork which was brilliant.
We’re both originally from Warrington, so we chatted about where they both grew up. I am a massive fan so the piece will be staying hanging in my flat.’
Stephen goes on to tell me about how good it feels to be able to give something back to the community by supporting charities like the NSPCC. Only last week one of Stephens pieces ‘Marilyn Monroe’ raised £3,500 pounds for the charity.
‘When I did my exhibition at Factory, it was so important that I give something back. I initially thought about the homeless in Manchester but the more I thought about it, I thought where does the problem of homelessness stem from and a lot of it comes down to childhood, so I thought the NSPCC would be a great charity to support and gave a percentage of the ticket sales to them. I wanted to continue to help so I donated one of motorcycle legend Carl Fogarty to the charity which he’d signed, when they came to pick it up I showed them a Marilyn Monroe piece I was working on and they were blown away by it. I had the Marilyn piece put onto aluminium, then coated it with a lacquer and added glitter and it brought it to life. I also added some LED lights to the frame which added even more. They saw it and asked if they could put it into their grand draw, which the prizes are like five star all inclusive holidays and things like that so it was a pleasure to see my artwork in that. It was a brilliant night and it raised three and a half grand which was fantastic. It was the highest raised item of artwork, which was mind-blowing.’
On the subject of the Factory exhibition Stephen kindly passes me a gorgeous book from the Factory exhibition to take home. The event took place last year with his good friend Georgina Robinson. It’s a stunning item, full of pictures and quotes.
‘This is the book that accompanied the exhibition that I did at Factory 251 last year’ Stephen tells me ‘It’s got everyone who was in it, in it. It was a brilliant night, met a load of people. There’s a bit about me, random quotes, little sketches.’
More recently, Stephen has also been working with Manchester band, Twisted Wheel, and has designed one of the most iconic looking covers for their come back album ‘Satisfying The Ritual’ One that Stephen says is his favourite piece of art to date.
‘Yeah, it’s been great to involved with it. I met Jonny a while ago at MMTV which is like an indie, music and arts night which is filmed. I got asked to go on one night and bumped into Jonny as I was leaving the toilet, we said hello but I didn’t know who he was at this point because he has changed so much since from when I saw Twisted Wheel play a while ago. Anyway, he got up introduced himself and did his stuff and I thought I just said hello to him, it’s Jonny Brown. We got talking after, exchanged numbers and one day he came over to the studio. He played an acoustic set at my exhibition at Factory, we got on really well and everything just twigged. It’s been a dream come true to be honest to get this opportunity. Jonny gave me the album name, at this point I’d heard nothing from the album ‘Satisfying The Ritual’ so for week’s and I just sat with it. Then the penny dropped, at the time I was on painkillers, so everyday been in so much pain I’d have to keep taking these tablets, two at this time and two at hat time, it was my ritual. So the album cover is my interpretation of satisfying ‘my’ ritual. Later on that I got the demos from the album, but I’m pretty much like everyone else waiting for the 20th of March to heard the finished product. The whole inspiration for the cover stemmed from the album name.’
Stephen accompanied the band on the last of their tour dates supporting Liam Gallagher,
‘It was fantastic, I met up with them in Zurich and Paris. My mum had just passed away and it gave me a few days away to just get away before I had to come back and sort everything out. They made me so welcome, it was unbelievable, I actually felt like I was one of the band.’
Things seem busy for Stephen I was interested to know what the future holds.
‘Twisted Wheel have asked me to do the cover for the next single ‘Ghostman’ which I’ve got an image for, so keep your eyes peeled for that. I do some commissions but I mostly listen to an album and then get inspiration from that then draw the artist. The NSPCC have asked me to do another piece, which I’m going to start soon. It’s a Liverpool related piece so I’m pretty sure it will fly out. I’m also looking to do another exhibition in Manchester in June/July time ‘
We wish Stephen the best of luck for the future and will be keeping our eyes peeled on his artwork on his socials below. If you are interested in any of his work or commissions please contact him on his social media Stephen Lynn Dionysus Art. You can get a copy of Twisted Wheels album ‘Satisfying The Ritual’ with Stephens artwork on pre order here: https://twistedwheel.tmstor.es/