Artist profile - Fanny Gogh
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
An artist for hire has her first chance at creating paintings for herself – thanks to a local businessman.
When artist Sian Elizabeth Absolom was offered her own exhibition at The Lowry, she was overwhelmed with excitement. But for a 'jobbing artist', the price tag of £5,000 was too steep to even contemplate.
That's when Sian's fairy godfather stepped in to help.
Now the Boothstown native, who has spent her professional life producing artistic and design work for others, has been able to really channel her own creative impulses into a set of 10 large-scale paintings which are truly from the heart.
'This is the first time in a long time that I've been able to create something just for me,' she says.
And it's all thanks to local businessman John Parrott who volunteered to sponsor the work for the exhibition, which opens on February 6th.
The pair's links were founded way back in Sian's schooldays when she attended primary and secondary school with John's son Lee.
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'John was always a beacon of the community,' she adds. 'There's not a chance I would have been able to do this Lowry show without him.'
Starting her career in textile and wallpaper design in London in 1990, Sian became something of a local celebrity when she used lacy underwear to create 'knickerbocker glory' paintings for her Beautiful Trash exhibition in 2009.
'I painted a knickerbocker glory on canvas and then added the lacy bits. I shoved it in the corner as a joke, a funny talking point, and it completely stole the show,' she says.
A tabloid tagged her 'Fanny Gogh', a play on Van Gogh, a nickname which disappointed her at the time, but which has stuck.
'It was a hideous word, I hated it, but everyone loved it, and no one will forget it,' she laughs.
Celebrities including BBC DJ Sara Cox, Waterloo Road actor Chelsea Healey and stars of Shameless sent her their undies and a percentage of every artwork sold went to the British Heart Foundation, and since then she's been on television and in magazines for her commissions.
The 48-year-old mum-of-three has worked in scenic theatre design, illustration and product design across the globe, including stints in Israel, the USA, Australia and three memorable years in Hong Kong.
'I was a jobbing artist and it paid the bills, but there is a difference between that and making the jump to doing what you want,' she says.
Once married with three children - now 19, 17 and 15 - Sian settled in Salford once again, but it wasn't until health problems in the last decade that she realised she needed to change her life.
'I found out I had a hole in my heart when I was 39. I was really poorly and had open heart surgery and I was in intensive care for a long time with pneumonia.
'I have three girls and I was in a really hideous marriage for a long time, but my illness changed the way I looked at life. When I was poorly, I got the strength to leave my husband and I walked away with absolutely nothing and had to start again from scratch with the girls.'
Suddenly Sian was a single mum who had to put food on the table for her daughters.
'Being a single mum and having to survive as a jobbing artist, I've not had that chance to take the break and do what I want to do with my art.'
Now happily married again, Sian and John's paths crossed once more at the Royal Oak pub in Boothstown, where Sian's husband became friendly with John.
'They play dominos on Friday nights and it's like going back in time. John is just so knowledgeable, I could sit for hours and listen, The characters in that pub are amazing,' she adds.
A chance meeting one morning when Sian was out walking her dog changed everything. 'I hadn't seen John for a few weeks and bumped into him outside the dentist. We chatted and I mentioned what I needed to make the show happen.
'I hadn't even finished the sentence and he said, 'Who should I write the cheque out to?',' Sian remembers.
'I burst into tears and gave him a big hug and he said, 'There must be a God because I never walk this way. There was a reason I walked this way this morning'. I was off again crying.'
It was similarly unusual for John, who admits: 'It shocked me as well, it came from nowhere.
'On the spur of the moment I said, 'I'll fund you £5,000,' and she nearly fell through the floor! She just stood there and burst into tears. It as amazing for both of us, one of the oddest things that has ever happened to me.'
Originally from Ashton-under-Lyne, John has always done his bit - through his companies Aspull Holdings and Aspull Engineering - to support young people in business. Moving to Boothstown in 1970 to work for the company he now owns, he's offered his premises to start-ups and expanding small businesses for the past 30 years. But he's humble about his contribution to the successes of others.
'It's payback time,' he says. 'I can only eat three meals a day.'
And when it comes to funding Sian, he's just thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of her story.
'I'm not into art. This was completely out of the blue. She has a very unusual way of portraying things. She does portraits in black and red and they're stunning, almost like photographs. I don't know how she does it, but she's so talented.'
And Sian adds: 'It feels magical to produce this work. Whenever I create anything for anyone I'm still totally engrossed and I never leave anything undone. But this is just something that's coming from within, it's very personal. The whole story around it, every brushstroke is like a breath of fresh air.
'I still can't take the time out from being a jobbing artist to take time in the south of France to put a collection together. It is an elitist world, but thanks to John I can do this.
'It's the most exciting thing for me ever and the fact that I'm in such a good place personally and am able to paint how I love to - it's amazing.'
Read more about Sian's work at fannygogh.co.uk.