When Chris Cyprus first turned his hand to painting in 2000, he struggled to convince galleries to display his work. ‘I was self taught and I didn’t seem to have the desired credentials’ he says. ‘Or maybe I didn’t conform enough. I tend to jump from one style to another so it wasn’t easy for galleries to label me commercially. I ended up going round the local pubs and asking them to hang my work on the walls. It was a win-win. They got art for their walls, and I got an audience of potential customers.’

Now – a far cry from being denied wall space – Chris is working on a huge community art project funded by the Transpennine Route Upgrade. The TRU is a multi-billion-pound project aiming to provide, faster, greener and more reliable trains between Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York, as well as making stations more attractive and more accessible. The art project titled ‘Routes to roots: a platform for art’ sees Chris work with communities and local schools, to help them create art that highlights their pride in the local area. These collaborative artworks will be printed on diecast aluminium and displayed at 25+ stations, all the way from Manchester Piccadilly to York, making it potentially the longest exhibition in the country.

Great British Life: Chris worked with pupils at Saddleworth School to curate the pieces for Greenfield StationChris worked with pupils at Saddleworth School to curate the pieces for Greenfield Station (Image: Dionne Cyprus)

‘It’s a really exciting project. As well as dramatically enhancing the visual appeal of these train station platforms and prompting pride in the local area, Routes to Roots will also hopefully foster a love of art and encourage artistic development in these talented young people.’

The project is particularly well suited to Chris, who is passionate about making art accessible to everyone. ‘A lot of my clientele will say ‘I don’t know much about art, but I like your pieces’ or ‘something in this picture just resonated with me’ and that’s what it’s all about really isn’t it.

‘I started out as a builder by trade because when I was growing up, drawing and painting was seen as a hobby not a career option.’ It was following a back injury that Chris turned to art as his main source of income. ‘I threw myself into creating art full time – and it was make or break.’

Great British Life: 'Day of the Race' by Chris Cyprus'Day of the Race' by Chris Cyprus (Image: Chris Cyprus)

Today, Manchester-born Chris is well known for his bold, bright and unapologetic style - particularly his colourful and characterful allotment pieces which led to an appearance on BBC’s Gardeners’ World in 2008.

His son Drew shares his passion for art and often accompanies Chris to allotments they find via Google Earth to sketch and paint. ‘The more ramshackle the better, that’s where you find all the interesting old characters. I don’t think there’s anything like a British allotment; they have a personality all of their own.

‘I love seeing Drew absorbed in his art, he’s got such a good eye and natural skill. He’s only 14 and I think he’s more talented than me.’ Chris is keen to support his son in accessing the opportunities he didn’t have as a youngster, and Drew has already secured himself art and music scholarships at a private school.

Great British Life: Drew Cyprus shares his dad's passion for artDrew Cyprus shares his dad's passion for art (Image: Dionne Cyprus)

Chris has his own thriving studio in Mossley and has enjoyed multiple sold-out exhibitions such as ‘Northern Lights’ - a series of paintings that celebrate the ‘magic hour’ as dusk falls and scenes are lit by the distinctive warm amber glow of sodium streetlights, which also earned him a spot on The One Show.

His welcoming studio showcases an eclectic mix of city scenes, rolling rural landscapes, and busy allotments. It’s clear that Chris is excited by art of all styles and subjects. He moves swiftly from showing off a huge blue-toned painting of trees casting their shadows on thick silent snow, to flipping through unbelievably detailed lino cut prints bustling with people and city life.

‘This is probably one of my favourite pieces at the moment’ he says, gesturing toward a vibrant interpretation of Mossley, complete with local wildlife. ‘It’s part of an art trail I set up here, and it’s used as the welcome sign when you come out of the station because it has so many elements that really sum up the character and atmosphere of the place.

Great British Life: Chris' Northern Lights exhibition received critical acclaimChris' Northern Lights exhibition received critical acclaim (Image: Chris Cyprus)

‘That’s what we want to achieve with Routes to Roots. Art that represents the buildings, the people, the voices and the culture of each place along the line. And I’m really excited that school pupils are able to get stuck into the creative process and inject such rich diversity into the work.

‘Historically, art could be considered expensive and somewhat exclusive. I’m thrilled that I’m able to collaborate with these young people on such vibrant pieces. They deserve to be really proud of their work, which will be seen by thousands of people.’


Great British Life: Chris' Northern Lights exhibition received critical acclaimChris' Northern Lights exhibition received critical acclaim (Image: Dionne Cyprus)