The market for Northern Art is flourishing, and the Modern and Contemporary Art sales at Tennants are seeing strong results for the region’s artists, as their work is becoming recognised and collected throughout the country.
One of the most popular Northern artists at auction is Brian Shields (1951-1997), also known as ‘Braaq’. He acquired this nickname (a corruption of Georges Braque - the French Cubist painter) at school because of his artistic talents. Known for his paintings of industrial scenes in Northern Britain, Braaq is one of the most successful of the artists inspired by L.S. Lowry and his matchstick men.
Braaq was born in Liverpool into a large artistic family of twelve. His father, Dennis, was a well-regarded artist but he discouraged Brian from a career as a painter as he himself had never been able to support his family through painting alone. The young Brian consequently became a trainee chef; however, his artistic ability was soon discovered when he painted a mural to brighten up the walls of the rather drab hotel in Harrogate where he had gained his first kitchen job. The mural, signed with his nickname ‘Braaq’, sparked national attention – but it was five weeks before the artist’s identity was uncovered and Brian gained instant recognition. He was to hold his first exhibition at just 23 and by 1977 was exhibiting in London. Despite never having formal training, Brian Shield’s work has since been exhibited around the world, admired for its vivacity, humour, and ability to capture the spirit of the North.
Braaq’s paintings are very much influenced by his childhood in Liverpool, and his family were of great inspiration to him. Indeed the often comical or irreverent titles given to his works were inspired by his father and he often includes his mother Agnes’s name as graffiti on a wall. Touchingly, Brian included his sister Ann’s name along with his own signature on his paintings, dedicating all his work to the sister who died aged 21. Brian himself can also be occasionally spotted in his paintings – a boy wearing a stripped jumper!
Recent Modern and Contemporary Art sales have seen paintings by Braaq sell well above their estimates, with avid collectors eagerly competing for their favourite lots. One of the top lots sold recently was an oil on canvas cheekily titled “I’ve just seen my first pair of ‘tits’” – a scene of a beach and funfair with a cityscape in the background – which sold for £17,000. If you look carefully you can see a boy in a stripped jumper running out of the scene on the left, looking at his audience and trailing a bikini top behind him!