When he’s not kicking lumps out of the opposition, the Wolves defender likes nothing more than slapping oil on canvas and drinking absinthe until he passes out. Well, maybe not the last bit...
“Ever since I can remember I’ve enjoyed drawing. Even as a kid, I thought I had a pretty good eye for it. I always thought I took after my dad and granddad in that respect, because they both have a flair for sketching, but I recently discovered that the talent runs even deeper in the family.
Letters have been found that my great-great-granddad wrote to his wife more than 100 years ago and they’re illustrated with the most amazing cartoons and doodles. So I guess this love of drawing really is in the blood – only I’ve taken it a step further.
I was 15 or 16 and studying art at school when I first seriously picked up a paintbrush, and it was the work of abstract painters such as Franz Marc that immediately fired my imagination. My first original painting was an abstract in acrylics which I did as part of my GCSE course.
(I actually painted my favourite abstract piece after a day out with the Sunderland squad. I’d probably had one drink too many when I entered my studio, but the finished product remains framed and on the wall at home. Testament to the creative benefits of the grape!)
When I left school, football obviously came first, but I continued to paint for my own enjoyment. It had become a passion, albeit not one I really discussed much with other people. The turning point was when my son Jake died of cot death two years ago. After that, I started painting all the time at home, really throwing myself into it a producing loads of pieces.
ESTABLISHING A STYLE
It was during this period that the former Middlesbrough player Paul Kerr, who worked for the television programme Up North, happened to visit me and was taken aback by all my work. He decided that a selection of it should be shown on the programme, and the resulting profile got me thinking about the direction my painting should take.
I decided that I wanted to develop it further and really establish my own style. Until then I’d been painting anything that caught my eye, and so I eventually settled on two distinct areas. Although at opposite ends of the spectrum, I decided to concentrate on portraiture, and landscapes and seascapes. And while some of the still employed the odd abstract flourish, I felt more in control of the form.
Following the TV exposure, the Tallantyre Gallery in Morpeth, just north of Newcastle, got in touch with me. They sent someone to view my work and luckily, the guy liked what he saw. I was particularly proud that he picked out a portrait of Jake that I had painted when he was five months old. The gallery then arranged the first public showing of my work at an Affordable Arts Exhibition in Bristol. This was 18 months ago, and six months later the gallery took my exhibition to Battersea.
Prior to the gallery’s involvement, I’d never considered whether my paintings would actually sell. I didn’t know if they were good enough. My wife and I had laughed about maybe flogging some at car boot sales, but we really didn’t have a clue.
So when the gallery advised me not to sell any piece for less than a grand, I was somewhat surprised. As it happens, of the 10 paintings I had at Affordable Arts Exhibitions, I managed to sell five at the price suggested. I then sold a further 15 at the Tallantyre Gallery itself.
SURPRISING AND IMPRESSIVE
I couldn’t make it to the showing at Bristol, but when I attended the Battersea exhibition I did feel rather nervous. These are big events, showcasing hundreds of paintings and attracting up to 20,000 people. All these art lovers scrutinising your work is a little daunting, but it’s done my confidence no harm at all.
The local media’s interest in� my website has also lead to recent commissions for three sports-themed paintings – of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and David Beckham. These will be on sale shortly in the Arts Lounge of the Hall Of Fame shop in Birmingham.
With more people now aware of my work, I’m also busy doing commissions for other players and their families. Team-mates who weren’t sure what to expect are, I think, both surprised and impressed by the results.
Of course, being a footballer who paints explains the exposure I’ve received, but I’d like to think that I’ve reached the stage where such a tag is irrelevant and my work is interesting in itself and not because it has been produced by a footballer.
My next job is to convert two bedrooms at home into a studio. I like to paint for three or four hours a day and I sometimes get up at 6am to work before going to training. Sitting in a studio, rather than the living room, is obviously more conducive to doing this.
As for the pieces that decorate the walls, I collect animal and forest pictures by Gary Hodges and Colin Evans, while the kitchen boasts duck scenes by Hilary Mayes. They’re not very well known artists, but they’re very good.
I find painting very therapeutic. Like playing football, it can’t be rushed and requires absolute focus. When my playing days are over I’d love to paint full-time, but for now I just feel lucky to be able to indulge both passions.
However, one thing I don’t intend to paint again is a 22-man football squad. I did a contemporary portrait, part-abstract picture of the Wolves lads for our former chair, Sir Jack Hayward, which hangs in the foyer at Molineux. It took me 50 hours to complete. Talk about struggling for your art!"