Published on April 18th, 2019 | by Nigel Cartner0
Interview with Stephen Lynn, Dionysus Art
Stephen Lynn is fast becoming one of the North West’s most reputable artists, with portraits of the utmost quality worthy of gracing any gallery. Known for strikingly lifelike portraits with a psychedelic edge, Stephen predominately focuses on musicians, with an emphasis on those heroes of the Manchester music scene.
Described as “the pencil poet”, his series of limited edition paintings, sketches and prints have graced many galleries across the UK and continue to impress a rapidly growing fan base, with word of his work spreading to the point that exciting ventures overseas loom large.
I had the pleasure of talking to Stephen, a genuinely humble and interesting guy with a story to tell. I found out how he got started as an artist, where the name Dionysus Art came from, who fills his wall of fame of signed portraits, and what was the craziest thing he’s ever done.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I mainly grew up in Warrington and I went to Penketh High School, which wasn’t too far away, only five minutes’ walk from my parents’ house. I started coming to Manchester at weekends and gradually got into House music and I was here nearly every week then.
Is school where you discovered your talent for Art?
I think my talent for art was a bit before that because I was constantly drawing as a child. I used to get brown paper bags and rip them up and draw on them if I had no drawing material, and then obviously at school I just had a real mad passion about drawing and was sketching a lot. I then went to art school for three years and did a foundation course and that was it, and I stopped for fifteen years.
Why did you stop?
When I left art college, I tried to get a job in the art field, but it was just impossible so I kind of gave up. For one reason or another I just never returned to it. Fortunately, over a breakdown of a relationship, I needed something to chill me out and thought I’ll just get a pen and paper or paintbrush and canvas and do some art. So that’s how I got back into it.
What type of stuff were you doing back then?
The first sketch I did when I got back into it was Ian Brown. As I call it, it’s cut out art, where you do a black picture, then you do a dark grey, then light grey, which numerous artists do, and that’s how I kind of started back.
You mentioned that you just started drawing when you were a kid but was there any inspiration behind it? Did you see someone’s work and you thought you’d like to do that?
I think when I was a child, I was copying off my auntie because she used to draw trains and cats and then when I got older it was more drawing cartoons and album covers and stuff like that. Now it’s more stuff that I like so you’ll see people like Liam Gallagher and Paul Weller.
You do a lot with music but where did that interest stem from?
In 1988 I was going to the Hacienda 3 or 4 times a week so I was experiencing a lot and then Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and all that come out. It was the right era for me. I just think Manchester was the centre of the universe and to have it on my doorstep was like, wow!
Are these your favourite bands too because of that time?
No, before Madchester I was always into Joy Division and The Smiths, but my favourite band are New Order. Everyone will disagree with me and go Oasis or Stone Roses. But I just think the whole Manchester scene was what brought me here.
Do you follow the scene today?
Since I’ve moved to Manchester it’s been a proper eye opener. The other week I went to see ‘ShadowParty’ and I keep seeing some of the smaller bands at Night People. I’ve seen ‘Little Avis’ a few times, so yeah it’s good to be able to go out and be able to walk home. When I lived in Warrington I had to cut it off at 23:30 or else it was a £70 taxi back home.
What was the reason behind your recent move to Manchester?
I just think since I did The Old Nags Head thing, I was spending more and more time over here and thought if I don’t do it now I never will.
The Old Nags Head art is fantastic. How did that come about?
I did a sketch of Rowetta and she managed to see it and got in touch with me, so I sent her a print out. I was a bit cheeky and asked if she’d sign it for me. She said she can do one better than that and meet me one day. She’s very active on social media and hammered it with my stuff. Luckily, Sean Brett from The Old Nags Head saw my work and got in touch and said he wanted seven prints. When I asked where to post them to, he said drop them off at the pub, and it was the Old Nags Head. When I was there, he took me to the beer garden and asked what he could do with the wall and I said I’d love to do something, so he said have a think about it. I came back with an idea with what Manchester represents to me, but there’s a lot of people like Emmeline Pankhurst and obscure ones like Bob Greaves, who used to do Granada Reports when I was a kid, so everyone on there means something to me, but also represents Manchester.
Does that happen often where someone will ask you to decorate a wall? Not necessarily to the scale of a Manchester pub.
I’ve done a restaurant in Newton-le-Willows where I did a Mexican themed wall, and he recently called me back to do a cartoon of a chef chasing a chicken, which is totally different to me because I’ve not done cartoons since I was 10 or 11, but it was refreshing to do it. I’m going to New York in October to do a piece, and also a gentleman on my Facebook who’s renovating a hotel in Greece, so given planning permission, I’m going to do the whole bar for him out there.
You’ve recently moved into a new studio too?
For years I’ve always wanted my own space where I can go and create, and now, I’m in that position financially where I can have a studio, which is in Oldham, but luckily a graphic designer and photographer have joined me. We bring good vibes where we can bounce ideas off each other so it’s a great team to work together in.
Who’s been the most famous person to sign your work?
I wouldn’t say most famous because everyone’s on a par, but the one picture I’m most proud of that I’ll probably never get rid of is the original painting I did of Liam Gallagher which he signed. The guy was an absolute gentleman. He put me on his guestlist, he was an absolute legend. Haven’t got a bad word to say about Liam. I’ve also got Lou Ferrigno, Sean Ryder, Rowetta, Johnny Marr, Peter Hook, Mani, Jonny Brown. They’re all on a wall of fame.
How come you chose the name Dionysus as your business name?
I read a book about Jim Morrison and halfway through they were going on about how he was a Dionysian character and I thought what the hell does that mean? So I looked it up and basically Dionysus was a Greek God of wine and ecstasy. If there’s a God you’re going to worship, then why not him? All these famous musicians are him like Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger, so I wanted to drag it back as an artist.
Who’s your favourite band from that era of music?
The Doors, love The Doors. Pink Floyd. But the band that really got me into music was The Sex Pistols. There was a guy a bit older than me at school and I went around his house one day. He brought me the popcorn cover of Sex Pistols, ‘Silly Thing’. It was more the sleeve that got me, not the music, but when I did listen, I was hooked. My artwork has always been connected to music.
You do a bit away from music though with movies? Who’s your favourite actors/actresses?
You’ve got to say De Niro or Al Pacino but I watched ‘Glass’ this week and I couldn’t believe how good an actor James McAvoy is.
Have you always done portrait art? You’ve never moved into anything scenic or abstract?
I’ve had a go at abstract and I’ve had a go at weird and wonderful stuff at art school, but I’ve just got a passion for doing portraits of someone who means something to me and trying to bring them to life on paper.
What’s the art scene like? Is it the same struggles that indie bands and independent writers have?
Yeah, I think it’s a constant struggle. There are always people looking at what you’re doing. There’s probably a lot of artists out there who deserve to be out there for people to see, so I do feel its exactly the same as a writer or band. We all fall into the same category as being a creative where we want to go out and channel our energy into creativity and hoping that the masses buy into it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Never give up and persevere with what you’re doing. If you’ve got a passion to draw, sketch or paint then make sure you put it down on canvas and do it.
How much would you say that life experience influences your approach?
I’d say life experiences are massive. From my own experience I was unfortunately involved in a car crash where my best friend died, but I was doing my art one way and then that happened and I locked myself in a room for three months, hated the world, was angry and went back to cross-hatching and getting my anger out by sketching. From there I ended up getting the technique where I am now, so life experiences are massive in where you go. Every creative could tell you that they’ve had a drink or drug problem, or this has happened, and they’ve been depressed, but you’ve got to take the life experiences out and say this is a positive and I can still do it.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done?
Probably going three days straight without any sleep and starting to hallucinate. That was in Ibiza. We were on these mopeds and for some reason they changed into horses riding across the desert and the next minute there was a sneezing chicken, which to this day me and my mate still laugh about.
What’s next then aside from New York and Greece?
Hopefully this year I’m looking to do an exhibition somewhere in Manchester or even in the yard in Oldham and keep it really basic and raw.
But this week I found boxes of stuff that I put away and I’ve found a signed photo of Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, which I forgot I had, but also Bobby Gillespie and Mani, so I’ve got all these pictures I’ve never painted.
Where is it that people can find your work?
I’ve got work up in Olchons Gallery in Ramsbottom, which has been in for twelve months. I was bit apprehensive about it at first but bloody hell it’s worked well while I’ve been up there. I’ve also got work in Northern Quarter Gallery, but the place to see my artwork is in The Old Nags Head because that pub is covered with my artwork, from a room with Man United, to all the great bands from Manchester, to comedians, actors or boxers, so whatever’s your fancy you’ve got it there.
Main Photo provided by Moore Tre. Please ask permission before use.
All Other Photos provided by Stephen Lynn. Please ask permission before use.