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Man creating incredible portraits of ‘ordinary town’ of Beeston

today3 July 2022

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A Nottingham artist has embarked on a year-long project to create a series of portraits of local people in Beeston. Matthew Lyons has already created 20 different portraits that capture the people of the town with a hope of holding an exhibition in September.

Matthew took up painting during lockdown during the hours that he normally spent commuting to work. He began the series in September last year after he issued a call out looking for people to pose for a portrait. While he was expecting a few to be interested, he was quickly inundated with requests.

“I had been struggling to get subjects to paint so I thought I would encourage people to come forward. My first painting was of my neighbour, Gavin, who is the local postman. I posted on Facebook to ask people if they knew of anyone who would be interesting to paint or had something and I got inundated with messages,” he said.

Read more: Sadness as former Beeston pub set to be demolished

“I didn’t have a figure in mind but I had been hopeful of getting a handful of people. I had loads so I decided that 20 would be a good number. I wanted a good mix of people who were old, young, men or women with a good mix in there too. It’s taken on a life of its own and it’s a celebration of ordinary people in an ordinary town.”

The stories that accompany the portraits reveal the hidden lives of locals in a small town. Matthew paints the essence of the person after he takes a series of photographs to work on. He combines the different photographs to create what he paints in the portrait. His work captures a bit of the story behind the person.

Artist Matthew Lyons pictured in his home studio in Beeston, Nottingham.
Artist Matthew Lyons pictured in his home studio in Beeston, Nottingham.

“There are all these incredible people like authors, singers, opera singers or rappers. I have a drag queen called Dixie Rect and all sorts of people including award-winning nurses. I did one of the Nigel Pepper, the street cleaner who is really well known around Beeston.”

He added: “I painted a boxer, so I went to his gym to watch him train for about an hour, then he paused for me to photograph him. I took lots of different shots so I could work on it. I’m finding that people are positive and interested in this so I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve met lots of people I wouldn’t normally have otherwise.”

Portraits are one of the most difficult subjects to paint as it has to be right and as Matthew says, ‘you have to get the likeness’ of the person. This can take days or hours to do or several attempts before it is perfect. Other times, Matthew manages to get the image of the person straight away.

He said: “People want portraits to look like them so you have to get the likeness. I have a style so I am not trying to create a photo-realistic piece but the challenge is to get the likeness within that style along with something of the personality.”

“When I did the Mayor’s painting then I got that straight away but then the drag queen painting took me three weeks because I just couldn’t get it. I had to scrap two because they just didn’t work.”

Matthew Lyons' portrait of Richard MacRae.
Matthew Lyons’ portrait of Richard MacRae.

So what is it actually like to sit for one of the portraits? Richard MacRae, independent councillor for Stapleford North on Broxtowe Borough Council, and former mayor of the town, sat for the series earlier this year. He found that it revealed something he hadn’t expected.

“I invited Matthew into the Mayor’s parlour to take the photographs because the average person normally doesn’t get to go in there. My daughter was there too so we had some photos done and you can see the other mayor photos in the background that were hanging there. It was her idea to do that which made it perfect.”

“I haven’t seen the actual finished item yet, which is going to blow my mind as he has sent me a picture. All I could see when I looked at it was my dad and my grandad which was nice because they have both passed away. I didn’t realise how much I looked like them.”

Matthew is planning to showcase the artworks at an event later this year in Beeston. His hope is to get the subjects of the series and the community together to celebrate the body of work.

What I am planning on doing is having an exhibition in Beeston from September 10 to get the community and those who were involved together. We are going to have a private party and then open to the public so hopefully, we can get a lot of visitors. I want to share the work and also, I want to close the project down.”

He added: “It would be a celebration of the people and I want to bring it all together into the centre of Beeston. Get all the people there and have a bit of a party.”


Written by: thehitnetwork

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