A stunning landscape exhibition at Bear Steps Gallery (May 1-14) captures our Shropshire views in mixed media, acrylics – and even in coffee and tea!
Artist Keith Jepson lost the sight in one eye following a mountain bike accident six years ago. It’s not stopped him from rediscovering a passion for art later in life – and setting his sights on turning it into a career.
You’ll likely recognise Keith from his bicycle – a passionate advocate of life on two wheels, he runs Bike Hire Shrewsbury, is a Bikeability teacher and also owns Max Bikes PR company. He’s also a keen poet, having recently published ‘Songs of The Severn’.
Having studied Fine Art at the University of Reading, Keith had fallen out of practice, following a career in marketing instead. But eight months ago, he says, he had an ‘epiphany’ and began to paint again. His subjects are taken from his travels in the saddle – the Shropshire landscape and Shrewsbury landmarks such as St Chad’s, The Wrekin and The Flaxmill.
“I was watching something on TV and I thought, ‘I’m sure I’ve seen this programme before’,” Keith says. “I realised I had wasted 45 mins of my time. That was when I decided to turn off the TV and get painting again.”
Keith carries a sketch book with him on his bicycle when he’s out and about: “I’ve always been a landscape painter, whether realistic or abstract expressionism. I like to give a flavour of what’s there but I put my own stamp on it. I am influenced by atmospheric artists, whether it be Turner, Rembrandt, Caravaggio – painters who have very atmospheric light about them.
“More recently, Len Tabner, an English ‘plein air’ painter really inspired me. He would be outside whatever the conditions, on the beach getting splattered with sand and water. I love being outside drawing – it gives it a whole different experience.
“A lot of my paintings are mixed media, although I also do a lot of watercolour, ink and pen. The bigger stuff can be acrylic, glue, sand, mud, cotton, tea – lots of things! Tea and coffee are kind of like an ink wash that make nice sepia tone. It’s really quite nice material to work with you can paint watercolour and inks on top.”
One of his pictures, Alpine View captures a view over the mountain where he had his bike accident in the Austrian Tyrol.
Alpine View – Mixed media landscape of an alpine view from the Austrian Tyrol, by Keith Jepson – “This is the trail where I had my crash. It’s a photograph of the actual place that I took, blown up and put on a canvas. It’ s a real mixed media piece; photo imagery with all my touches – Sand, glue, acrylic, watercolour, spray paint, pen, ink, tea, coffee.
“It was a very small crash, not much of an incident,” Keith recalls. “Two days later, a dark curtain fell over my left eye. I cycled straight away to the hospital in Shrewsbury. I had detached my retina. And after numerous surgeries and laser treatments they were unable to fix it. I went to 80-90% vision. It takes about two years for your brain to adjust to the special acuity and depth perception. I’m getting better, I still fall down stairs and miss steps. I don’t drive at night. But that said, my brain has definitely adjusted to it.”
Although the loss of sight has clearly had no impact on his ability to create, Keith says it’s possible it is creeping into his work subliminally.
“I’ve always liked quite dark, tonal stuff. I like a lot of contrast, there is a dark area to most of the paintings. One of my friends noticed that with the more up to date pieces are dark on the left-hand side. The light prominence comes from the right. I think it might be to do with the fact that I’m blind in the left eye.”
Keith would love to give more time to painting: “I would love to do it full time. It’s very rewarding, challenging and fun.”
Keith has artwork going in Shrewsbury Coffee House in July and you’ll also find his work on the Shrewsbury Arts Trail this summer. For now, you can find him at Bear Steps until May 14.
Shrewsbury Arches – arches by the Flaxmill underneath the railway – “These have almost something of a classical architecture about them. Even when I created something abstract or expressionistic, I try to base it in real existence.”
Summit Flags – Wrekin View, mixed media, editorialised – “I painted it during lockdown at a time when no-one could go anywhere or explore. I was interested in mountaineering documentaries, the alpinist’s summit fever mindset, climbing into the death zone and all that. Also at that time, our street had had all the bunting put up for the NHS. On the top of it, you’ll see a little ring of flags – it’s the Wrekin with Himalayan Prayer Flags!
St Chad’s Worship – mixed media, mostly acrylic. “I spend a lot of time in The Quarry either travelling through, commuting, delivering bread or bicycling. St Chad’s is an iconic Shrewsbury landmark. I painted it from slightly beneath, with one of the lime trees close to me, dark and imposing and St Chad’s up there in quite a celebratory space.
Autumn Wood – coppice towards Berwick Road – very mixed media – “I wanted to capture roots, the mulch of leaf litter, exposed roots, bare trees – and the colours of that time of year.”