He walked 500 miles for his art

Camino Way (with the artist in shadow) from John Brokenshire's exhibition, Camino, at the Cupola Gallery
Camino Way (with the artist in shadow) from John Brokenshire's exhibition, Camino, at the Cupola Gallery

Sheffield based painter John Brokenshire’s exhibition opening at the Cupola this weekend is inspired and informed by the experience of completing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage.

“I seem to have had the Camino in my head for many years prior, just hearing it mentioned,” explains the artist. “For example accounts of escapees walking over the Pyrenees in the Second World War I heard on Radio 4. And something in me always went ‘ping’ and thought gosh, ‘I have to do that one day....’”

There are several routes for the famous pilgrimage in Spain and Brokenshire chose to walk around 500 miles.

“My walk on the Camino was a journey across a varying landscape , sometimes at high elevations: the Pyrenees and mountains of Galicia, sometimes endless plains and vineyards - the regions of Navarra and Rioja, Castille Leon, and the legendary Meseta,” he continues. “It was an experience of long days of walking, surrendering to the rhythm of my footsteps. The connection of the pilgrims from medieval times to those I had followed on Youtube in preparation, numberless over time.”

“I walked it in two parts : St Jean in France to Leon in March / April 2015 and Leon to Santiago de Compostella last year in September. On my return there was a heatwave which led to some pre-dawn walking under the stars. The first section I did in the spring no one was pre-dawn walking and the stars were day-blind .

“The most frequented and famous route is from the French border just east of Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela and is 775 kms or so (482 miles) tracking straight west. People also walk from other starting points from as far afield as Rome. In the old days to reach Santiago de Compostela meant reaching a sacred point where the bones of St James are supposedly interred, and one would get remission of venal sins so literally hundreds of thousands of mendicant medieval pilgrims would go. Because of banditry the Knights Templar sprang up to defend the route.

“The Way as it is known has a lovely name in Spanish Camino de Santiago de Compostela where Santiago is St James and the Compostela has two meanings. It is the proof of completion of pilgrimage, a written document with stamps showing you are a proper pilgrim and also ‘field of stars’, meaning the Milky Way.
“The Camino has a strong and attractive allure to thousands who walk today for every kind of reason from health to spiritual to wanting to consider a change of career, after a divorce or retirement, perhaps. People come from all over attracted by the mystique - from South Korea , the USA, Canada etc.

The Cupola’s long gallery and the main gallery will be occupied with more than 30 oil on canvas which range in size from 20cm by 20cm up to 120cm by 150cm plus sketches, drawings, photographs and notes made during his long journeys.

“A love for painterly depth and rich colour are constant vital elements to me, ” adds Brokenshire.

“In this exhibition I try to use memory and to mine the experience to make a series of oil on canvas paintings which allude to the Spanish colours, the sense of journey and transition and the sense of itinerancy. This is something I can only convey subtly and by suggestion,”

Cupola director Karen Sherwood says: “John’s signature abstract paintings featuring veils of blue, green and purple washes over a dark or black ground are clearly in evidence but the Camino experience has informed both his palette, application of paint and his use of recognisable figuration. Occasionally he has made clear or direct references to the landscape or the huge bull sculptures he encountered and found so striking along the way.”

John Brokenshire graduated in Fine Art from Sheffield Hall University in 1995 and lives and works in Sheffield. He has work in public and private collection internationally.

Over the past 25 years he has had nine solo shows at the Curwen Gallery in London’s West End, and also shown at Derby City Gallery and Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. In 2006 he had an exhibition in Sheffield Cathedral and his painting, Dove, in the Methodist Collection. which is constantly touring.

The artist will give a talk about his remarkable journey and how it has profoundly affected his life and art practice at the Cupola Gallery on Saturday, August 19, at 2pm.

Camino by John Brokenshire opens with a preview at the Cupola, Middlewood Road, Hillsborough, on Friday at 7.30pm and then continues until August 26.