Actor Turned Artist Johnny Vegas Reveals He’s Found His “Happy Place” As He Stages His First Mass Public Exhibition at Manchester Art Fair
Comedian, actor, writer, director and artist, Johnny Vegas, was in Manchester this weekend as he unveiled a number of works at his first mass public art exhibition at Manchester Art Fair with Winsor Birch Gallery under curator Grant Ford.
The much-loved Lancastrian showed five works from two mediums at the acclaimed art event, including two bronze sculptures and a selection of mono-prints on a clay slab.
It was an exhibition a long time in the making for Vegas, who graduated from Middlesex University with a BA Hons in Art and Ceramics some 30 years ago, only to later down tools when, he says, “life got a little in the way.”
His passion for art reignited little more than a year ago when a chance encounter and a day’s filming with internationally recognised sculptor and fellow exhibitor at Manchester Art Fair, Emma Rodgers, led to something much greater. It’s a moment that Vegas says: “changed the trajectory of the rest of his life.”
“Suddenly everything fell into place,” Vegas said. I’d just been diagnosed with ADHD and for the first time I understood why education had never quite worked for me, but art did.”
With Rodger’s support, Vegas started to make again and take his own creations seriously. “Enjoying it, making again, it was like wow, I’ve been carrying around ideas for years that don’t suit any other purpose than art,” he said.
It was a re-kindled passion that last year, looking for something to do that fitted with his changed lifestyle, saw Vegas discover Manchester Art Fair. Looking back, he said; “I’ll be quite honest, I thought it would be two or three stalls, something nice to do on a Saturday, but I absolutely loved it. I took my niece who had studied fine art, and it was a real bonding thing walking around, seeing what we both liked, and we agreed on so much; I felt validated.
“I bought for me, it was my biggest investment in art, but you know when you turn a corner and you go, I love this, and I need to wake up with this every day in my life, and yeah, I genuinely can’t believe that now I’ve got work here.
“It’s a dangerous place for me because I just want to fill the house with work. What’s the point of having walls if they’re not going to inspire me? I don’t want to sound bourgeois but, yeah, it’s a real buzz being here [at Manchester Art Fair], it’s great being involved with it because it’s my happy place.”
Vegas is exhibiting five works at the event including Norman, a bronze cast of a sculpture he created during lockdown and inspired by a young boy the artist used to see on the school run every day who, he says, appeared to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Speaking on the memory he said, “I always wanted to stop him and say all will be ok, things work out.”
It’s the piece he says really threw him in at the deep end and inspired all the ideas to come out.
“I’m just processing a lifetime of ideas and thoughts that didn’t suit the workplace or anything else that I was doing with my life and suddenly I have an outlet to explore this stuff that’s really me, this stuff I’m carrying around in my head” he said.
“I’m Norman, I’m back in the sweetshop again, and I haven’t heard the word diet yet. So creatively I’m filling my face with 3D print, found objects… Discovering bronze work has just been a revelation, I absolutely love working in bronze, but then the mono-printing of clay is really nice because I always said that I wasn’t a fine artist, I couldn’t paint and there’s a freedom in painting on clay and carving into clay and working on clay, and I know that these pieces are going to be absolute one offs but in that moment every mark you make is recorded.
“I was just saying earlier that when you flip them over your expectations are thrown completely. How you thought the print might be isn’t always the way, but it’s a blessing in disguise, it’s a constant learning thing. Going back to my youth – could do well, must try harder, I’m loving learning and even if I fail when I’m making, I’m in such a good place.
“If this was a final chapter, it’s the one I’m really enjoying writing, I have no idea how it ends but I’m absolutely enjoying writing it.”
Adding on the significance of exhibiting in the Northwest Vegas, added: “I think because I came to Manchester [Art Fair] last year it was another moment of going, wow you’ve stuck to it. I’d dipped a toe in the pool. I felt fully immersed and amongst my own and I’m back in amongst the art community.
“To be showing here this weekend is really important to me. I’ve been going to gigs lately, and I’m not doing standup at the moment, and I feel like a bit of an outsider. By showing here, and not just coming along and loving and appreciating other people’s work, I’m throwing my hat in the ring, I feel part of something really special again.”
Managing Director of Manchester Art Fair, Sophie Helm, said: “We’re thrilled to open the doors to the largest and most diverse edition of Manchester Art Fair to date, with work catering for every unique artistic style and taste.
“Having welcomed Johnny to Manchester Art Fair as a visitor last year we’re proud to now have the opportunity to show his work. The fair has been our happy place for the last 15 years and we couldn’t be more pleased to hear that it’s Johnny’s too. We’re looking forward to seeing his future works.”