Almost everyone who comes into the Salford Star pop-up shop and exhibition on Salford Precinct, including Santa and his elf, is immediately drawn to Rob Lever's incredibly striking, brilliantly bright depiction of Dirty Old Town.
Done art nouveau style, the limited edition signed print encapsulates everything that's in the song, with even more Salford added...There's the train at night, the prowling cat, the smoky wind, the good sharp axe, the clouds drifting across the moon and...woooaaah, does that gasworks girl spring from the streets at night!
"I thought 'What would it be like now?'" Rob muses "I wanted to get the spliff in there because Salford's got a bit of an edge to it. Your girl would be waiting for you somewhere on her mobile phone having a smoke, so I wanted to update that bit..."
He's also added the much missed Salford Quays Cargo Cranes in the background, some symbols of the city and even loads of Salford Stars in the top right hand corner.
"I wanted to do a painting of Salford and I was influenced by cubism but also in that period, 1890 to about 1920, art nouveau and deco was around so that inspired the painting too" Rob explains.
As Salford artists go, Rob has remained almost below the radar, quietly producing stunning works from his studio in central Eccles...there's cubist re-workings of old masters, Salford scenes, Salford characters, weird and wonderful shining contraptions...even Bet Lynch looking miserable as sin with a smiley badge on...and pigeon poo on her shoulder.
Fabulous stuff but it's a talent that screams too quietly for attention, with Rob only exhibiting in a handful of venues, from Eccles Community Gallery to Contemporary Six in Manchester, and somewhere 'up near Ashton' that he can't even recall. Let modesty blaze, as they say, but at last Rob is moving full time into art, after various careers in computing, programming and graphic design.
The almost self-taught skill that he's been honing for the last eight years is now coming out to play...
"In 2010 I got injured in a martial art accident and thought 'I've got to find something to fill my time up'" he recalls "I've always been interested in art but frustrated that I couldn't spend time on it, so I thought 'Now is the time' and took up painting just for my own pleasure...well there is no 'pleasure'; you suffer, it's not a hobby..."
After short training spells at the London Academy of Realist Art and under the eye of a local well known artist, even though his work is getting rave reviews on social media, Rob is still refusing to play the gallery game.
"I'm trying to find alternative ways in because I don't want to be pigeon holed as 'the artist that does this or that' which is what the galleries are looking for" he explains "I want to paint what I want, when I want; when you're doing what you want it flows, it's easier."
Any creative person will agree with that. And any proper artist will also agree with his other principles... "I think the artwork is more important than the artist in a way" Rob decides "It's not about me, all angsty and 'Here's my unmade bed' or something. It seems to be more about the hype and all that sort of stuff but I want people to associate with my artwork when they see it.
"I'll explain to anyone face to face what it's about but it's also about making the artist less prominent". And then he repeats "It's more about the art than the artist."
And it's art where the whisper is getting louder...
Rob Lever's Dirty Old Town signed limited edition print is currently up for auction, with all proceeds going to the Salford Star. It will be auctioned at noon this Thursday 6th December at Charles Taylor Auctioneer (Salford).
Last chance to see it on display at the Salford Star pop-up exhibition and shop at Salford Precinct today, Sunday 2nd December until 2pm. Along with the other ten lots on display it will be taken to Charles Taylor's for their public viewing between 1pm and 3pm this Wednesday 5th December, and from 9am to 12 noon on Auction Day Thursday 6th December.
For full details of how to bid see previous Salford Star articles – click here and click here
Prints are available for many of Rob's artworks and some originals are also available for sale. Please contact him directly via the website www.leverart.co.uk . 10% (gross) of any sale via this Salford Star article will also be donated to the Salford Star benefit fund.
The Dirty Old Town piece is a high quality, 'fine art' giclee print on 300gsm Klein Imaging smooth rag paper, professionally photographed from the original oil painting to ensure integrity. While 100% of the money from the auction of the print on display at the Precinct exhibition will go to Salford Star, other Dirty Old Town prints, individually signed and numbered by the artist, are available only from the artist, and currently priced at £185.