I am a full time artist working in Painting and I am based near Colchester in Essex. I took early retirement from teaching in 2013 after 24 years, my last post being as an art lecturer in Hackney, east London.
My work has developed since the early 1990’s from my attempts to articulate experiences of growing up on the Chelmsley Wood estate in Birmingham, which was at the time the largest in Europe, with a population of 70,000.
When I started teaching in Essex in 1990 I took a small studio on a converted farm on the outskirts of Colchester. From this point I began to think back at the environment that had formed me, exploring the landscape and incidents I had witnesed or took part in. Although it was a strong community, incidents of violence, alcohol and drug abuse, crime, high unemployment and family breakdown were commonplace.
As a follower of Birmingham City Football Club travelling to many away games with the people I grew up with, I became aware of many similar environments and communities around Britain that looked and felt similar to the one I knew, so I began to make work about them also.
My paintings fit into 2 basic categories, the first being an intuitive way of working – from memory and imagination, the second being developed from photographs. Teaching full time and keeping my work developing for 24 years was difficult, but was absolutely vital for me.
Events in 2013 led to my life changing dramatically and a whole new set of experiences has led to the starting point for my latest body of work, which will be illustrated and documented as the paintings develop in the blog linked to this site.
Tony McCorry constructs painted scenes of urban British townscapes. The images are not of specific locations, they are instead built up from pieces of memory to recreate a sense of a place rather than a physical reproduction. That sense combines the memories of physical elements such as the architecture and materials, the colours of that architecture, and the forms and shapes, as well as the psychological and ‘mood’ memories like the feeling from events that took place that might alter the colours or tones and therefore reference the mood of the image.
Tony’s paintings could be viewed as sets or stages that are primed and ready for something to happen, or perhaps captured after an incident has already taken place. The absence of people adds to this feeling. Often the locations are places that hold memories of a specific event that Tony either witnessed or was involved with.
The architecture that is presented in the paintings represent structures that provide society with the opportunities to work, rest and play. These include housing (traditional Victorian terraces and modernist concrete tower-blocks), factories (Victorian warehouses with their chimneys prominently displayed), football stadia, the minarets and steeples of mosques and churches, pubs and shops (either singly or in rows). They are also marginal spaces that either connect (stairs, bridges, viaducts, car parks) or confront (walls).
The atmosphere that the paintings give off is one of solidity and solemnity. The colours used are mostly sombre and sober browns, greys, greens, mustards and terracottas. Verging on the edge of what might be considered ‘dirty’, the colours have a suggestion of solidity, practicality, use and function – something to be relied upon.
The main contributor and focus for the memories that Tony draws on is the Chelmsley Wood estate in Solihull near Birmingham, where Tony grew up. The estate was built in the late 60’s and early 70’s and quickly developed a reputation for ant-social behaviour and high levels of crime. Places like this feature in the news as abstract locations for many of us – remote sites that we will never see or experience and only know what we are told about it.
Many new estates were built during a similar period to the one at Chelmsley Wood, and although the intentions were honourable in terms of providing social housing for the often working class members of society, these concrete jungles often created tough and hostile places with no work nearby, meaning that the people who lived there responded in kind. The paintings Tony make acknowledge the failure of the architecture to provide for the needs of the people, but recognise that within that, people find ways to survive, however brutal those methods of survival may be. For the people who live there it is home, and as with any of us, a sense of pride and connection with home is difficult to avoid.
- Kaavous Clayton (2016)