Manchester on the Move, 12th-26th March

A solo exhibition by Adam Ralston.
March 4, 2022
Manchester on the Move, 12th-26th March


Ahead of Adam Ralston's new solo exhibition 'Manchester on the Move', which features his largest collection of Manchester scenes to date, I thought I would catch up with the artist and find out a bit more about him and his practice.


Adam has exhibited at Contemporary Six since 2017 and is a favourite of both the gallery and our clientele. His work is highly sought after, especially his scenes of Blackpool and Manchester. Working 'en plein air' you can often find him painting for hours on end and braving all kinds of weather.



Adam braving the Manchester weather to paint 'plein air' on the junction of Quay St and Deansgate.

1. When did your life as an artist begin?
Art class at school was always a bit of a doss lesson and I never learnt anything of any worth, due mainly to bad teaching quite simply. After school I was doing ‘A’ Level French, alongside a sports foundation and an art course at St.Anne’s college. This would be my first taster of real observational painting. The tutor advised me to go onto the 2 year art foundation course at Blackpool Art College. The tutors there at that time were brilliant, and the college was well known for being one of the best in the country. Proper old school tutors teaching you how to see and draw through measured drawing. Heavily influenced by the artist Euan Uglow. That involved using a ruler held at arms length, and measuring from one point to another. A bit of a mechanical process but it gets you to put things in the right place. I still use it now sometimes with still life, but do it by eye when painting outside. After this I did a fine art degree at Canterbury and basically found out through this course what kind of art I didn't want to do. It was all graphic fine arts and printmaking mostly; I didn’t do any painting. After college I did many different jobs such as bar work, in an engineering factory, signmaking, theme artist/sculptor and eventually self employed gardener. So it wasn’t a straight forward journey on the road to being an artist, and I only decided to pick up a brush again about 10 years ago.
2. 'Manchester on the Move' is the most complete group of paintings on the city you have exhibited. What is your affinity with Manchester?
Manchester is constantly changing, and every time I visit there’s a new building going up somewhere. Whether that’s always for the best from an artistic point of view I’m not too sure, but it’s great trying to capture things as they are now. I love capturing the hustle and bustle of the city, and the people are very accommodating and friendly. It reminds me of painting in London which I love, and also makes a refreshing change to painting on the beach in Blackpool. I’m still  relatively new to painting Manchester, but have got to know it better over the last few months. I love the older buildings nestled in between the newer modern architecture. And the trams with that brilliant yellow colour are genius!
3. How do you choose a scene and what are some of your favourites?
It’s always awkward trying to know what to paint. I often look for the shape of the buildings against the sky, and have a tendency to try and fit a lot in the painting. I prefer that than zooming in on something as some artists do. I think if the composition is wrong too, then this can lead to an unsuccessful painting. Even when you’ve picked a scene you’re still not sure if it’s what you should be painting. Some work, some don’t. The most banal bland of subjects can look pretty spectacular with a bit of sun hitting it. I’d say Oxford Rd, Cross St, Deansgate and St.Peter’s Square are some of my favourite painting spots.

'The Process of a Plein Air Painter' - Created, Filmed and Directed by Samantha James Comeau and Batara Indra Soepraba.

4. You're known for painting with oils, what made you choose this medium and have you ever been interested in others?
Yes, I only paint in oils which is difficult enough. In my foundation years I only ever used acrylics, but they told us what colours to use. I’ve used the same ten colours ever since. Titanium White / Lemon Yellow / Yellow Ochre / Burnt Umber / Viridian Green / Ultramarine Blue / Cerulean Blue / Alizarin / Cadmium Red / Cadmium Orange. For most people, I think working in oils is a natural progression following on from acrylics. For me, oils slip around easier and just feel better to work with. I have in the past used a lot of charcoal and done some pastels and a bit of watercolour too.
5. Who are some of your artistic heroes (if you have any)?
I love work by current observational painters the most. I’ve always been a big fan of Peter Brown who seems to make pleinair painting look easy. I also love work by Ben Hope and Rob Pointon.
6. You say you are often mistaken for other artists whilst painting outdoors in Manchester, Rob Pointon and Michael Ashcroft among others, does this bother you and is there a friendly rivalry between you and your fellow painters?
 I’ve been called many names whilst out painting, so being mistaken for these artists is fine with me. These painters are some of the finest in the country and have painted Manchester more than me. So no it doesn’t bother me at all being mistaken for them. We paint together frequently as the ‘Northernboys‘ group, and all paint in our own individual style. That’s something you can’t really change much and people like different styles of painting. So there’s no rivalry at all, just a group of like minded artists that paint and pint together. 

Progress on 'Peveril of the Peak'.

7. Finally, what can people expect from the upcoming show at Contemporary Six?
The exhibition is showing all individual, original pleinair oil paintings of Manchester scenes. Over 25 paintings painted in all different weather conditions, directly on the street in front of the subject. Some are done in one go, but most take more than one session to complete. I’ve painted the city before just a handful of times a few years ago now. This exhibition will showcase a bigger selection of new Manchester paintings. Most paintings are size 12”x16”, although there’s a selection of smaller ones too.
'Manchester on the Move' takes place at Contemporary Six Gallery between 12th and 26th March 2022. Adam's paintings will be availabale to purchase in person, on our website and by phone from 10am on Saturday 12th March.
Please contact the gallery for more details.

About the author

Kirsty Jukes

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