Artist Michael Hipkins is looking forward to his new exhibition for two very good reasons.
It's the latest in a long series of exhibitions at venues ranging from Preston's Harris Art Gallery to Salford City Art Gallery, Harrod’s Picture Gallery and the Gallery Not in London. His work has also been shown at the Scottish Royal Academy, the Belgravia Gallery and numerous other private and public galleries.
But this show is extra special .It marks his continuing recovery from both a stroke and Covid. He said: "I had a stroke last year as the Covid pandemic was just starting. I was in hospital and I got Covid. I was in hospital for seven weeks. It's painting and sculpture that has brought me round. I've really painted all the time. It's helped me recover."
Michael, who was also diagnosed with pneumonia, spent time in Blackpool Victoria Hospital, the intensive care unit at the Royal Preston Hospital and Clifton Hospital in Lytham.
At the age of 79 the former head of art at Longridge High School ,who lives in the Fylde, not only credits his art works with being crucial to his recovery, but he is delighted that he has developed a new style of painting.
The exhibition title 'Out Of The Woods' references that recovery. The show, which will be officially opened at Garstang Arts Centre on July 25, is the first exhibition at the Croston Road Centre post lockdown.
He said: "I painted the landscape area around here. I went out and did sketches and worked from the sketches. I was lucky to be able to do that. Most people weren't able to do anything (in lockdown) really. I use watercolour, oils, pastels, all the traditional media. Most will be in oil paints. Most of the paintings have been done since I came out of hospital - it's like a journey of my recovery."
Michael continued: "Since my stroke my painting has changed completely. I just paint in a different style. I paint more intuitively.now. I'm more responsive to colour."
He added: "I think I like the way I paint now ... Picasso once said he could paint like a master when 12 but it took him a life to paint like a child. I thought what on earth is he talking about, now I understand. You paint like a child instinctively with the knowledge of a lifetime."
He added that with extensive training you can become so concerned about technique and accuracy that the initial inspiration can be lost.
He was grateful that his right arm was not affected by the stroke and has produced some 130 paintings since leaving hospital. But he cannot tackle the big sculptures he made previously, concentrating instead on smaller works. The exhibition will include 30 paintings and a few small sculptures.
He said: "I had feeling in my left arm It was just very weak. I've had to strengthen it up quite a bit. It's got the strength back and I'm just getting the coordination back. It's starting coming back slowly. My clot in the brain damaged all my sense of balance. I've had to relearn how to walk.
"I think the Covid developed into long Covid. I was tired. I was in intensive care. They put me on steroids to recover from the stroke and they (the steroids) helped with the Covid - they didn't know that then, so in a way it probably got me through. I got pneumonia as well as the Covid. Then I gradually recovered. They didn't have to do any surgery. I said I had friends in high places I think. "
The former pupil of Rossall School, Fleetwood, trained at Blackpool College of Art before studying painting in Paris at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and Academie Julienn. He went on to study etching and engraving at the renowned S W Hayter's Atelier 17.
Michael was Head of Art at Longridge High School for 23 years until he took early retirement in 1995 to concentrate on his own art work. Married with three children and with a demanding job he had never been able to pursue his interest in sculpture. Early retirement gave him the opportunity to study marble carving with specialist carvers in Portugal.
He said: "Strange things happen because when I retired I couldn't paint any more. I got a painter's block.I knew how to paint (but had) no inspiration to paint ...I started doing sculpture then painting came back."
Michael, who is an Associate member of the Royal Society of Sculptors, exhibits his work at Walker Galleries Contemporary Art in Harrogate and closer to home has exhibited at the Longitude Gallery in Clitheroe. He is represented in Lancashire by Jo Bennett Original Pictures who exhibit his work at art fairs in the region and beyond. Until lockdown he also gave demonstrations and workshops for art societies.
His recovery has given Michael, whose favourite painter is Vincent Van Gogh, a new zeal for his own work as an artist and sculptor. He said: "It's a goal because I feel I've got a new lease of life...I've been put back on the earth to do something."
* The Out Of The Woods exhibition at Garstang Arts Centre runs from July 27 - August 19. The Centre is open on Tuesdays from 10am to 12.30pm and 2-4pm, on Thursdays from 10am - 4pm and Saturdays from 10am to 12.30pm. Prices for his work will range from £100 to £600.
* The Lancashire Post is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. For unlimited access to Lancashire news and information online, you can subscribe here.