Meet the 86-year-old Northamptonshire artist behind exhibition at newly renovated town museum

The retired teacher paints around 20 pieces a year based on ‘what he sees around him’

By Sarah Becker
Friday, 6th August 2021, 10:30 am
Chris Fiddes.
Chris Fiddes.

An 86-year-old artist from Northamptonshire is still hard at work, so much so that he currently has a gallery display dedicated to his work.

Chris Fiddes has 21 of his paintings on display at the newly renovated Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in Guildhall Road.

‘Challenging Perspectives’ - the exhibition - is made up of paintings created in Chris’ studio at the bottom of his garden.

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Chris' work is on display at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

Chris said: “I paint what I see around me.

“The artist can transmit the message but it is up to the viewer to decode them.

“Much of what I paint I read about in the news and see on TV - it’s the human situation that is the true drama of life that ought to be recorded.

“I’d really like it if someone 100 years from now were to look at my paintings and form a really good idea of what it was like to live in the late 20th century, early 21st century.”

Chris paints all his pieces in his studio at the bottom of his garden.

Since retiring from his job as an art teacher and historian at Northampton High School, as a professional artist Chris paints around 20 paintings a year, using his razor sharp memory to visually record scenes around him until he can get home to sketch them out on paper.

Chris paints his own personal reaction to a variety of social and political situations often using metaphors and symbols.

This compulsion to record scenes of human drama took root when as a young man of 21, Chris was conscripted to the army on national service in 1956 and posted to Kowloon in Hong Kong.

It was during a posting on military intelligence that he was ordered to Kowloon in the aftermath of riots, where he witnessed such scenes of human brutality, they were to leave lasting impressions on him and change his direction as an artist.

One of Chris' painting on display.

Chris added: “I was 21 and had grown up in a kindly middle class family. I had not seen men die violently before.

“I watched the open-sided trucks carrying the Hong Kong police carrying greener guns into the city of Kowloon opening fire onto the rioters and bringing the bodies back.

“Greener guns cause the most appalling injuries to people and the police started bringing back the bodies and lining them up in the square where I was posted.

“I drew the corpses as they lay there on the ground. I knew it was what I should be doing.

“It made a deep and profound impression on me.”

The painting “Kowloon Riots,” hangs up in the exhibition today, a record of those horrific times.

It was this same compulsion to chronicle political and social episodes that led Chris to Belfast during the heat of the Northern Irish conflict that started in 1968.

Chris says there was no war artist going to Belfast at that time and he felt it his duty to go and make a permanent record of the troubles. He risked his life to do so.

One painting hanging up in the exhibition entitled, Police Post, South Belfast, shows a military command post that Chris sketched.

“I had sketched the netting, iron and barbed wire surrounding the post before I noticed that a rifle was pointed directly at me from the look out post,” Chris continued.

“I was shortly after arrested for interrogation.”

In one exhibition painting, the artist has painted himself in a room full of people of a certain age, receiving a Covid jab at a doctor’s surgery.

In another painting, he has painted a scene in oil of people crammed into a pub garden ignoring the rules to socially distance.

Strung up in the trees are fairy lights which, on closer inspection, are in fact in the shape of the Covid virus and two skulls are intertwined with the peoples’ heads.

‘Challenging Perspectives’ will run at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery until October this year.

Chris Fiddes will also be hosting two ‘evening conversations’ at the museum on September 17 and September 24 where he will be discussing his work and art.