The Life and Work of Glenn Ibbitson.
Glenn Ibbitson lives and works in Newcastle Emlyn. It’s just over the border, but I have long admired Glenn’s work, and when he agreed to do an interview I was delighted.
Glenn’s interest in drawing was encouraged initially by a science teacher when he was about 12. He remembers spending a lot of time in the art room of his Leeds school, and from there, a degree in Art at Kingston upon Hull seemed the best next step.
“The seventies were a depressing time in Hull,” he tells me, the area was reeling from the effects of the Cod Wars; a loss of fishing grounds to Iceland. so rusting ships and empty docks and people out of work defined Hull in 1979.”
Did that influence you?
“I think it must have informed my view. There was also the fact that my tutors were very influenced by abstract impressionism and I have always been a representational figure painter. Effectively, they left me to get on with it. That was bound to affect how I worked.” He laughs, “ I pretty much had a life model all to myself for 2 years. No one bothered much with me, so I was able to experiment.”
Glenn took on some part-time teaching in Harrogate following his college years.
It was then by chance that he came across an advertisement for the BBC that was to inform the next few years of his working life.
“ The interview for the BBC didn’t go so well.” Glenn laughs, “The interviewers discussed whether I would be able to do the job right there in front of me. I was so discouraged that when the letter arrived I didn’t even open it. It was days later when my girlfriend insisted that I fish it out of the bin that I realised they wanted me.”
The opportunity that was to take him to London and a whole new career changed his life.
What was the job?
“ Before computer generated imagery, backdrops were all painted by hand. That was what I did. Really, it was the degree course I never had. I learned so much, not least to stop agonising over every single brushstroke.”
Glenn enjoyed the work and better still for any artist, it paid a salary. After two years he went freelance, still working for most of the same designers, but C.G.I. was beginning to take over.
“ I had met my partner Carole by then. We were living 7 miles from the end of Heathrow runway at the time and we both wanted to move out of the city. We were both regular visitors to Wales where we knew we would have better landscapes and a healthier living environment.”
It only took two house-hunting visits to find where they wanted to be. They moved in 2004.
“I was working on images that have been influenced by my theatrical background, so my first body of work to be completed here was around circus acts, knife throwers, levitating ladies, that sort of thing. I had an exhibition in Theatr Mwldan and called it ‘Smoke and Mirrors’.”
“My preference is for artworks that reveal themselves slowly over repeated viewings. I have no interest in producing ‘fast’ images.”
I have looked at ‘Little Histories of Fragile Creatures.’ The book Glenn created in 2016 ,is a supplement to the work, and it is a little gem of integrated fact and fiction. It has me itching to steal some of those characters and run away with them.
Glenn’s images are many faceted, commenting on contemporary social issues, political deception and what he sees as the resurgence of religion in political life.
His series of ‘men in boxes’ deals with slavery and human trafficking.
“That project started as homage to Houdini. I placed myself into a small crate. It was incredibly claustrophobic and the whole project took on a darkness that I had not originally intended.”
Two canvases adorn the walls of his living room. The images of a naked man in a constricted space are beautiful and at the same time tortured.
“I completed about 160 to 180 canvasses, all square, different sizes. The images can be hung any way as the wall of the crate is actually the floor. They are not titled, they have batch numbers because I am portraying a human being as mere commodity.”
As I take them in, Glenn laughs, “Surprisingly, they are rather popular with gay men. I have quite a following in Barcelona.”
Not quite what he intended, but it’s always good to have ones work appreciated. “The artist has to realise that the viewer will bring their own thoughts and background to their artwork and modify one’s original intent – not a bad thing.”
We take a walk to his studio where he shows me his latest work in progress. It’s a large canvas , with the theme of Sysiphus. It’s a self-portrait, showing a landscape that combines different places as a background to the figure ,who is attempting to roll a boulder up hill, as in the legend. Glenn smilingly describes the great rock as a boulder of his own neuroses.
I want to know how much time it takes to create a piece like this and does he paint only when he is in the mood?
“ It’s a full-time job, though not all is spent painting. There seems to be more office work now than I ever thought I would need to engage with.”
I am sure readers will want to know if you run workshops?
“Yes, occasionally. Any workshops I run will be posted on my website.”
So what do you do when you aren’t working?
“I like to walk. I like Snowdonia and the Preselis. If you meet six people there in a day it’s crowded. Oh, and I like bird watching.”
Any favourite birds?
Glenn laughs again, “My answer to that will have to be, the next bird I see. I also have a fascination for moths. Carole bought me a light box. Moths become dazzled by the light, fall in and I go and record and photograph them. Of course I then release them, unharmed. There is an incredible diversity here. They are amazing.”
. People can find more details on my website of future events: