Watercolour award winners' Bolton chip shop show

Is it a Pollock? No, it's a priceless painting by Robert Green who exhibits his work in a Bolton fish and chip shop. Emma Mayoh reports

Most artists would be delighted to sell a piece of their work. But Robert Green deliberately makes it hard for people. He puts huge price tags on his work to deter would be buyers and to see his work you have to join the queue for fish and chips in Bolton.

But the 62-year-old’s reluctance to share his watercolours has done him no harm. Despite only becoming a full time artist following retirement, last year his painting, Milk, was awarded the first prize in the prestigious Royal Watercolour Society exhibition at London’s Bankside Gallery. He also soon expects to hear if any of his new paintings have won this year’s top prize.

‘I never aspired to be successful,’ admitted Robert, who spends much of his time travelling the globe, as well as in his Lancashire home town and in New York where he has a house. ‘That’s the funny thing about it. I had works on display in London that I priced at �10,000. I pointed one out to a man who didn’t know I’d done it. He walked up to it, took a closer look and said “I wouldn’t give him ten pounds for it”.

‘But that suits me just fine. I’ve been offered thousands for my paintings but there is no way I will sell them. They mean too much for me to part with them. I can’t imagine ever letting them go.’

The link was always there for Robert. His father, Ernest, used to draw and paint as a hobby and as well as going to art college as a teenager, Robert also led advertising campaigns for companies like Campbell’s, Gillette and John Deere. He has worked everywhere from Canada to South Africa before becoming a creative director for leading agencies in New York’s Madison Avenue.

But the inspiration that finally prompted him to make the leap didn’t come from Andy Warhol’s famous painting of a tin of condensed tomato soup; it came from his girlfriend’s tortoise shell cat, Joni.

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Robert, an amateur photographer and huge football fan, said: ‘I looked at Joni and her expression was just fantastic. I grabbed my camera and the picture just caught her perfectly. Nine times out of ten it never works, but this time it did.

‘I was inspired to go out and buy a little painting table and some watercolour paints and I couldn’t believe it when it turned out well. I had to do more.’

Robert paints alternative landscapes like run down streets in the Bronx to football memorabilia and antique tins which he also collects.

His unorthodox approach also extends to his choice of exhibition space. Rather than apply to the Liverpool’s Tate, the Guggenheim in New York or local galleries, the former advertising guru chose to hang his precious art works in a fish and chip shop.

Olympus Fish and Chip Restaurant, in Bolton town centre, is an unlikely place to get your fill of culture. But it was the light and space in this local institution’s restaurant that grabbed Robert’s eye. They have now become something of a local tourist attraction with people visiting the restaurant just to get a look at the art work.

While Robert does not yet want to sell his paintings, he does hope, once he decides to limit his travelling and settle down, his paintings could be made into prints for greetings cards and he could open his own studio.

‘As long as I keep the original, I would be quite happy for them to be on cards,’ said Robert. ‘That way, there will be lots of people who will be able to enjoy them. That is why it would be good to have a studio too. I wouldn’t want to take my paintings away from Olympus either. It is a great space and I think people enjoy them being here.

‘I can’t believe how well everything has gone. I’m bowled over by it. But at the moment, I’m living the life and enjoying myself and I don’t want that to change. I love painting and that’s what I want to carry on doing.’

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