Artist profile - Chris Rivers
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 September 2020
A former rock musician who toured with Bon Jovi and Black Sabbath is marching to a new beat as one of Lancashire’s up-and-coming young artists.
Chris Rivers once plied his art by beating the living daylights out of a drum kit. He travelled the world as part of a successful – and, no doubt, very noisy – band of musicians who supported tours by the likes of Bon Jovi, Status Quo and Black Sabbath.
Today, the soundtrack to his life is a much quieter one after swapping the crash, bang, wallop of the rock music industry for the more delicate rhythms of oil painting. He still listens to music when he paints but that is now just an echo of what he calls ‘a crazy period of my life’.
His pictures are striking in terms of size and content – they have been known to stop people in their tracks at art fairs – and his work can command prices of anything between £4,000 and £16,000. They adorn large walls in the US, Australia and Scandinavia as well as the UK.
At first glance, some of these big canvases might seem the place where abstract art meets Impressionism – swirls of pink rose petals caught in a whirlwind. But look closer and you may spot a tiny host of fluttering cherubs or an astronaut floating helplessly in space. Some can be a shade darker with tiny winged skeletons – unsettling but never quite macabre.
In still life works, a beautiful vase is painted in the style of a Dutch master while the flowers and background merge into something from a student of Renoir. His is a unique style which was rewarded with a first solo show – coinciding with his 37th birthday – at an upmarket Chelsea gallery. Of the 32 pictures on display, Chris sold 15 before the doors opened. ‘This has been quite a significant moment in my life,’ he says.
He was born into an artistic family in Blackley and went to school at Cardinal Langley High in Middleton. ‘I only ever excelled at music and art,’ he says. ‘I failed miserably at everything else. I don’t think I was lazy. I just wasn’t interested in anything else.’
He joined a group straight from school and in 2005 he moved to London with a band called Hurricane Party. They evolved into Heaven’s Basement, who produced albums on the Red Bull label. Art took a backseat as he and the band provided the support for superstar groups playing venues, mainly in America, to audiences of 60,000. Chris has no tales of television sets thrown from hotel windows but it’s fair to say it was a fairly wild part of his life.
‘Was I the band member who went off alone to visit art galleries while the rest partied? Sadly not – I was at the bar with the rest of them! It’s the one thing I’d change. I went to so many incredible places across the world without going to the galleries.’
Towards the end of his time on the road he bought a set of artists’ materials and started to paint on the skins of old drums, selling the results for a few pounds. ‘When the band wound down I turned to painting straight away. I didn’t want to create my own comfort zone, a steady job with a salary.I wanted to commit full-time to painting.’
That was five years ago and Chris has been lucky to have the support of his long-term partner Jenna, who is a nurse. They have twin daughters, Indiana and Summer, who turned five in August. Happily, art is providing him with a good living.
Social media has been important. ‘Instagram has been amazing for me,’ says Chris, who has his studio in Falcon Mill, home to a colony of artists on the outskirts of Bolton. ‘Probably nine out of ten sales have come through it and I now have a following of around 90,000.
‘It was something I learned from the music business and applied to art. Artists who ignore social media are missing a trick.’
Success hasn’t given Chris itchy feet. ‘I love where I’m from and I could never imagine moving away,’ he says. ‘It has been a real eye opener to see how many amazing artists there are in Lancashire. There’s a real resurgence in northern art. I share the space at the mill with some really talented, creative people.
‘When I started it was trial and error but it was important to have the space to make mistakes and learn from them. I have never painted to please anyone other than myself and I’ve developed a style that’s part abstract, part surrealism, some Impressionism with a passing reference to Renaissance art. It’s been fun.’
Does his miss his days in a band? ‘I miss being on stage in front of 60,000 people. I miss that buzz of being around other people. Being an artist is quite an isolated life. But I’ve still got my drums and I want to do something in the future – pub gigs or a tribute band playing classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses.’
It doesn’t seem Chris has settled for a quiet life after all.