An award-winning young artist has returned home to Teesside with a thought-provoking exhibit.
Middlesbrough-born Connor Shields is showcasing a unique artwork that combines hand-knitting with industrial materials as part of an event that focuses on the relationship between industry and art.
The former Fine Art student from The Northern School of Art’s Middlesbrough campus uses his art to highlight issues that he is concerned with.
Connor, who won the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Graduate Award and Residency in 2018, said that his art is influenced hugely by his home town.
“I was born and brought up in Middlesbrough and I use my art to explore and challenge the ideas of working-class masculinity and perceptions of ‘maleness’ that I grew up with and the link with the problems that toxic masculinity can cause for many men.
“Some materials and processes are traditionally associated with being male or being female and I work to combine them in my art to make them work together, I’ve previously hoisted knitting with scaffolding for instance.
“It’s unusual enough to start a conversation and that is how artists can raise issues that need to be discussed like challenging how we are taught to behave based upon our binary sex.”
Connor explained: “I use knitting within my work as it is perceived to be a domestic hobby for women in the present day, and I aim to challenge this stereotype; by being a man that is knitting.
“I juxtapose the knitting with materials that are linked with a stereotype of a ‘working man’. Materials such as bricks and scaffolding. Individually the materials have their own connotations, however, when placed together our perceptions of these materials are altered. Although the materials are contrasting, they work together harmoniously.”
Connor studied on The Northern School of Art’s Extended Diploma course in Fine Art and Design at its Green Lane campus in Middlesbrough before studying Fine Art at Leeds Arts University. Before graduating from his degree he was awarded the Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s first ever residency.
The former Trinity Catholic College student added: “The only thing I really enjoyed at school was art and I always knew that I wanted to study fine art but I didn’t really know the full extent of what fine art could be until I studied at what was then Cleveland College of Art.
“The two years I spent there were two of the best years of my life. It broadened my idea of what art is and opened my mind as to what art can be. Studying at a specialist art school is so important as you are taught to focus on developing your work rather than ticking boxes to pass an exam.”
Connor’s former teacher at The Northern School of Art, Fine Art and Photography course leader, Judith Crompton, said: “Connor, and the successes of all of our hardworking alumni, are a testament to the Extended Diploma in Fine Art’s dedicated lecturing staff, whose focus is on developing knowledgeable individuals prepared for the creative industries.”
Connor’s ‘Disparity’ artwork can be seen at Platform A Gallery at Middlesbrough Railway Station until May 9th as part of ‘Major Conversations: The Industrial Narrative’.
He added: “The piece has been shown a few times in Leeds and London but this is the stand-out show for me. It’s where the work’s come from so it’s important it’s exhibited where the influences for it came from.”
‘Major Conversations: The Industrial Narrative’ is currently showing at Platform A Gallery, Middlesbrough Railway Station, Zetland Road, Middlesbrough TS1 1EG. The gallery is open Tuesday – Friday from 10am-4pm. Entry is free.
Details of the wide range of specialist skills-based creative courses offered by The Northern School of Art are available at www.northernart.ac.uk Or visit the School’s next open day at its further education campus in Middlesbrough on Saturday 15 June 2019.
Further information about Connor and his work is available at https://connorshields.com/