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Friday, 25 April 2014

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John immortalises old Furness College in art

AN ex-student, who went on to become an international artist, returned to his former college to unveil an iconic new painting.

Thirty years ago John Duffin began his relationship with Furness College in Barrow. He was a draughtsman apprentice at Barrow shipyard, who studied evening classes in oil painting and A-Levels in art, English and sociology.

The artist acknowledges the college as being a “launch pad,” and said: “The college for me was a life saver; it gave me an education that changed my life.”

He moved to London where he studied BA fine art at Goldsmiths’ College, alongside students such as Damien Hirst, and then an MA in printmaking at Central St Martins.

Mr Duffin has now had a successful 25-year career in the capital, holding more than 40 one-man exhibitions, and his work is in many public and private collections.

He was back at the Channelside college last week to reveal his painting of the Copper Box, the new building of the £43m campus transformation.

Together with Furness MP John Woodcock, Mr Duffin unveiled the work and received a rapturous applause from students, staff and guests.

Principal Anne Attwood said: “It’s fantastic, the colour looks so real, everything about it is moving – the water and the sky.”

Mrs Attwood said: “I knew straight away John was the person who would capture what needed to be captured.

“It is an iconic building and we wanted that iconic picture to be created sooner rather than later.

“Back in 1875 the college’s first subjects were engineering and art, it could not be more fitting than to have a student, whose background started in engineering, who has gone on to be a truly inspirational artist.”

Art and design student. Sarah Hardie, 18, said: “It portrays the college beautifully. It’s so difficult to get so many colours onto one page and make it work. It’s amazing.

“Just before I came here I was researching other pieces of his work. His work is inspiring. I like the way he takes places and transforms them slightly and gets such a big impact.”

The dramatic painting has been 18 months in the making from Mr Duffin’s visits to the college site.

He said: “It’s a very individual and very strong building. I can see echoes of art deco, neo brutalism, late Twentieth Century modern movement; I can see a lot of different architectural styles. It appealed to me also because I can see the engineering of Barrow in it.

“We wanted something which linked it to Walney Channel and its unique position so when this is put on letter heads and college stationery it says this is a unique college that is on a waterfront in the North West in a very dramatic and individual location.

“For some people it would have been a challenge, for my style it has worked very well. I did make many studies before I got to the final composition. I came to the college many times, met Anne, and came on my own and did drawings when it was still a building site.”

Mr Duffin is famous for capturing the wonderful colours of the Barrow skies.

He said: “I wanted that dramatic Cumbrian sky that we get and I associate with the area.

“You get such a change of climate and I wanted that drama, because it’s a dramatic building and I had to play around with the sky. I had to get the balance between electric light and natural light, and reflective light on water.

“I didn’t want a silhouette of the building, I wanted to show off how the building is constructed and the excitement of the electric light.

“This is one of the best skies I have ever done, it has built on all those other paintings.”

Mr Duffin said it was an interesting time to be a college student in Barrow in the 1980s.

He said: “There was dialogue and discourse and you would come away energised with your mind spinning. I cannot praise it highly enough.

“The college was very important to me, more important than my job was; it was what led me into higher education in London.

“Somewhere in my mind all of this feeds in to what I was doing. I wanted to do something which showed my great love of Furness.”

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