Ahead of the charity auction in aid of Claire House, Getintothis’ Glyn Akroyd heads down to Rankin’s It’s Glam Up North exhibition to meet the man himself and learn more about how it came about.
It’s Glam Up North (Honest) is the wry title of a witty art deco painting by Nous Vous and it perfectly sums up the feel of the It’s Glam Up North exhibition which has been curated by renowned photographer Rankin in order to raise funds for Claire House Childrens Hospice when it is auctioned on November 21. The exhibition and auction are being held at the Museum of Liverpool and when we walk into the press opening photographers are already in action, snapping Rankin as he poses with Claire House attendees and exhibitors the Lloyd brothers, who all suffer from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Rankin is seemingly as at ease on the other side of the lens as he is when photographing the Stones, the Queen, and just about every other notable musician, politician, film star, and model of the last 25 years.
They are posing in front of the piece, Dazzling Liverpool, that brothers Sam, Dan and Tom have collaborated on for the exhibition, a vibrantly coloured depiction of Liverpool landmarks which hangs next to Precious Moments, another Claire House collaboration by younger children Aimee and Lily Evans, Josh Jones and Lewis McDonough, an equally striking abstract collage. The vibrancy of their work and its collaborative nature are themes that run through the exhibition and its development.
We ask Rankin how the exhibition came about and he refers back to his Walker Art Gallery exhibition, Alive: In The Face of Death, a series of portraits of people from all walks of life who were confronting life threatening illness with a sense of defiance. He was introduced to Claire House by Liverpool Museums, already Claire House patrons, and visited the Wirral hospice. “You go into this situation which is really difficult and everyone we met was, like, amazing, the staff, the kids, they were so positive, we were just blown away. When I realised they didn’t get any funding, there was no support, that to me was shocking, it didn’t make sense to me, so instead of being grumpy and moody about it I thought I’d try to help and do something positive”. Having witnessed their work at first hand Rankin readily agreed to become an ambassador for Claire House and it was the hospice themselves who approached Rankin with the idea of a fund-raising auction, following an offer of the space from Liverpool Museums.
Brought up in Yorkshire and feeling that “people are generally more welcoming in the North”, Rankin wanted to twist the old adage It’s Grim Up North and use it playfully, ironically, as the exhibition’s theme. We ask him if the title also, obliquely, reflects the ethos of Claire House itself, and he responds “yes of course, I thought I’d go into a hospice and it would be, well, not depressing, but …solemn…and sad, and actually it’s the opposite.” The Lloyd brothers laughingly echo his sentiments, reflecting on the positive aspects of respite at Claire House, ”sometimes you just want to get away from each other, and to be fair, a lot of lads our age wouldn’t be hanging round with their mum and dad all the time, they’d be out with their mates”.
In a recent interview Rankin stated that he never thought he’d be the kind of person who would be involved in this sort of thing. We ask him to expand: “I was hedonistic, nihilistic even, and there’s this whole thing where the 30s are the new 20s and you don’t grow up, I was just enjoying myself, enjoying the fruits of…minor celebrity”, he laughs, “so during the ‘90s I didn’t really care about anyone else but myself.” The death of his parents and the birth of his son, all within a relatively short period, was a “punch in the face” which forced him to refocus, and he states that “I didn’t want my son to grow up thinking I just created some photos, which is an amazing occupation, you know, but I wanted to do something more than just that”. I guess many people would be quite happy to be remembered as having ‘just’ shot Rankin’s portfolio but, along with other causes, he felt drawn to Claire House and, in Lauren Luxton’s (Claire House Head of Communications) words “took us to his heart”.
We broaden the subject a little and, somewhat apologetically, ask Rankin “How did you make Gordon Brown look cool?” (The portrait in question sees Brown staring gimlet-eyed over his hands looking every inch the ‘50s Hollywood hard man, rather different to his commonly portrayed persona). “Because he IS cool” Rankin shoots back immediately and begins a passionate and animated defence of the former Labour leader, “he was charming, he was funny, he was intimate, he was interested, inquisitive, he helped me with some work I was doing and he’s a classic example of how the media can paint a negative picture of someone for their own devices”. He laughs and, pointing to my recorder, says “It’s the media. Don’t believe everything you read”.
Perhaps it is this ability to empathise with his subjects, to grasp their situation, often in the short time frame of the photo-shoot, that makes him the photographer he is today. That empathy, when extended beyond the professional, is perhaps what makes him the person he is today.
We ask Lauren how much input Claire House had in assembling the actual artworks but she credits Rankin for “opening up his little black book of contacts” and his “incredible team for pulling it together”. “I’ve only seen some of the pieces for the first time today myself” she adds, “so I’m really as excited as anyone.” Rankin adds that he is “incredibly proud that all these people have helped. I don’t know loads of these people, I just like their work. Everyone thinks that when you meet famous people you’re friends with them. You’re not. It’s not like some sort of gang.”
We put it to Lauren that fund raising usually entails some sort of John O’Groats to Lands End sweat-a-thon but her response highlights the forward thinking nature of the Claire House team “We worked with Liverpool Museums a couple of years ago on a similar exhibition called Liverpool Love and raised about £80,000, and there’s this kind of perception that fund raising has to be some kind of bucket shaking event but in today’s climate we have to be really creative to find ways to raise money to support our families.”
Does she have any idea how much the auction might raise? Lauren is understandably coy on this one, willing to say only that “we know how much the pieces are insured for and we’d absolutely love to reach that amount”, but goes on to enthuse, “we just want to put on a fantastic night, Rankin is coming back up and some of the other artists will be here as well”.
And the exhibition itself? We’ve already mentioned the pieces from Claire House and the exhibition boasts some stellar names; Vivienne Westwood, Peter Saville and Nick Park to name but a few. Rankin has donated two pieces, the sparkling Glamortality and Manticore IIII, a darker piece from his 2011 Monsters, Myths and Legends collaboration with Damien Hirst. Elsewhere are the bold, striking graphics of James Joyce’s 3 Likes and Adam Hayes’ So Like Yeh; the ballsy, in yer face, Angel of the North by Aidan Hughes; the couture of Burberry’s bejewelled trenchcoat and William Tempest’s Cardinal Dress; and Melvin Galapon’s holographic rainbow print Blackpool Glitz. A video about the work of Claire House manages to be both heart breaking and life affirming at the same time.
You can go to see this exhibition purely as an art lover and you won’t be disappointed, it’s a cracking, diverse display of contemporary art, bold, punchy and thought provoking, but you should really, really go to see it to support the incredible, selfless and loving care that is provided for children, young adults and their families by the community of Claire House.
Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson.