Step inside the Stratford home of artist Jon Stiff, and you step into a world of colour and texture. Jon has converted his entire terraced home into a space to showcase his unusual work and even plans to open it to the public as the pandemic eases.
Jon, who calls his business Stiffy Art in light-hearted reference to a childhood nickname, won nationwide acclaim after starring in the Channel 4 series Drawers Off back in the spring of this year. (The series celebrates life-drawing by inviting five amateur artists to sketch each other – stripped off!) Alongside TV fame, Jon Stiff has been bagging regular valuable commissions from private and business buyers alike.
Alongside his career as an artist, Jon also works as a litigator, fighting contentious claims in the construction industry. He works in various styles – including floral, abstract, and surrealism using a variety of unexpected household items to paint, rather than brushes. He also likes to apply his art to unusual surfaces, from wheelie bins to discarded vehicle parts. Implements Jon adapts to paint include a garlic crusher, spatula, and turkey baster.
His work may be unconventional, but there are buyers a-plenty and Jon receives regular commissions for prices of around £5,000 a piece. He has also now teamed up with his seamstress daughter, Carrie, to create art on homemade canvasses and has launched a series of ‘open house’ events from his three-storey home in Bull Street, in Stratford’s historic town centre. The walls, ceilings, garden and even the furniture show off Jon’s eclectic and vibrant creative range.
“I was from the outset self-taught and whole experience has been uplifting as it offers the opportunity to be creative and really pull out some ‘hidden’ desire to be an exhibitionist! That in its self is liberating beyond belief and beyond words,” says Jon. “It’s an addiction.”
He doesn’t see his lack of formal training in any way limiting. “As for restrictions, for me they are to be viewed as temporary hurdles. Of course you need to be ‘accepted’ to some degree. What I find refreshing is the support that other artists provide, marginally critical but over overwhelmingly supportive,” he says.
Some of Jon’s own favourite pieces are based on his experiments in ‘dual imagery’. These are based upon the studies of one of his favourite artists, Jackson Pollock, and created using the rudiments of household paints and raw canvases. To create these large pieces, he uses various assemblies or structures as a frame then drapes them with canvas to create a result that can be viewed from both. He also uses luminous or ultraviolet paint to give different results in different lights. One of his favourites, ‘Wing’, is oils on untreated canvas on an aircraft wing, measuring 190cm by 150cm in total.
“I like the larger pieces,” says Jon. “Size is one thing, but the piece has to have presence and purpose and almost demand attention. With ‘Wing’ I enjoyed the process of tailoring the canvas and doing the eyeleting as well as the wrapping and tensioning with rope.”
Jon’s favourite artists include Bridget Riley, Gustav Klimt, Gerhard Richter and Jackson Pollock.
“I am still experimenting and learning and am bowled over by the amount of support through word of mouth as my story spreads,” he says. “Normality, standardisation and the status quo don’t sit well with me. Frankly, predictability and certainty violently oppose the change I am searching for. I have spent time in lockdown making my art more visible at home and it seemed a perfect idea to invite people inside to see for themselves.”
Family is at the heart of Jon’s passion for his craft, especially as he is inspired to follow his calling as an artist by his late nephew Corporal Graeme Stiff who was killed serving in Afghanistan, aged just 24, when his vehicle hit an explosive device, in March 2009.
Jon says: “We shared the same nickname as people with my surname do. When something as terrible as losing someone so brilliant and young happens, you feel disconnected from the world. To carry on, you have to do what you love.”
The first open house event by Jon Stiff was held in the summer and he is now planning another event, to be held next spring. To find out more, visit www.stiffyart.co.uk.
All images (c) Stuart James of Emotive Eye3