In pride of place on a bookshelf at the home of Steven Tandy, pictured, is a copy of The Observer’s Book of Painting and Graphic Art. It’s a bit battered around the edges but then it would be, as the artist has owned the treasured book since he was a child and was captivated by the paintings on its pages.
The still life work of Paul Cezanne was among them and Steven, who was born into a working class family in Sheffield, is certain that it was the tiny book that sowed the seeds of his future life.
Art wasn’t a regular interest for young lads growing up in the city in the second half of the last century and Steven says his mother would definitely have preferred him to have taken up a trade but he wanted to go to art college.
“The book started an enthusiasm for art and I had a very keen interest in painting. There was just something about the paintings which pulled me in,” said Steven.
“My first oil painting was done when I was about 15 and my art teacher at school encouraged me by putting my paintings up in the corridors. Something like that makes you feel good and it feeds itself I guess,” he said in a considered way.
He still has that painting and fetches it to show me. You get the feeling that along with the book these treasures are more than just mementos to the artist.
Despite his parents misgivings the young Steven headed north to Leeds Polytechnic to study fine art – a college at the time that was considered to be very avant-garde and was producing art that would make even Damien Hirst look tame today.
“I am not sure I would have gone had I known, but it was a great time and the one thing I learnt was how to question. It made me think about what I was doing,” he said.
Armed with his degree, three years later Steven returned home to embark on a career as a sign-writer. Life then took over: he got married, had three sons and now lives in a small village on the outskirts of Sheffield.
He carried on painting in his spare time and continued to nurture his interest in still life even having some exhibited at the former Granby Gallery in Bakewell at one stage. But it wasn’t until 2011 when he was out of work that he finally decided to paint professionally.
Steven doesn’t mind admitting he is a perfectionist – something that means he is not a prolific artist and one of his paintings can take a month to complete. It’s for that reason that it has taken until now for him to have the confidence to stage his first solo exhibition.
“I wanted to start off slowly as I wasn’t sure I could paint enough for an exhibition but after going to the Melbourne Festival last year I was invited to exhibit at the Ingleby Gallery and I said ‘yes’ so that has forced me to do it,” he said.
In his tiny studio at his home there are several paintings on the go for the forthcoming exhibition and from what can be seen it is going to be a stunning collection.
In front of his easel are cherries, clearly now past their best, but on his canvas they are captured to perfection.
“The one problem with still life is that the fruit has a tendency to go off after a few days so you have to make sure you paint those first and then do the rest afterwards,” he explained.
All around the room, and in fact all over the house, are examples of interesting objet d’art that he uses in his work.
“I am fascinated by things that have a history and I love to include them in my paintings,” he says caressing a gorgeous jug, which he says dates back thousands of years.
On the mantlepiece he points to Roman relics with delicate curves and on top of a bookcase is a display of pewter tankards begging to be part of a still life.
“Particular shapes and the way the light falls on them is something that interests me as an artist. I am the type of painter who can’t work with photographs. I have to be before the subject and being outside with the changing light, the wind and the rain would just frustrate me.
I detected a hint of humour as he said: “The beauty with still life is that it doesn’t move about.”
To see more of Steven’s work go to http://www.steventandyfineart.com or Ingleby Gallery for the exhibition which is on from June 15-29.