Right up Jim’s street

Jim Moir began his artistic career by copying the French neoclassicists but now his subject matter includes Ena Sharples and wild birds

Hero image

A man who gets up at 4am to start painting might be described as single-minded but that’s not quite right for Jim Moir.

He went to art school in London, for sure, works in a number of mediums, including watercolour, oils, sculpture and pencil drawings, and boasts a long list of repeat international buyers and collectors. But for large parts of his career his mind has been on something else.

Moir is better known as Vic Reeves, surreal comedian and one half of Reeves and Mortimer. Since he created his alter ego in the 1980s he’s become a household name not only for his comedy but also quiz show appearances, acting and even top 20 music hits – but he says he fell into it all by accident. His new Manchester exhibition reveals this even older string to his bow.

Hailing from Leeds and moving to Darlington aged five, Moir started off by studying mechanical engineering before changing his mind and enrolling at Sir John Cass School of Art in London, opposite the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

In the beginning, he was quite the traditionalist, copying the works of French neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David and selling them to make a quick buck. Now his subjects are many and diverse and include Hilda Ogden and Ena Sharples, The Beatles, British wild birds and himself.

Alex Reuben, owner of Contemporary Six, which staged his Manchester exhibition, says: “I think the best way to explain Moir’s work is that he’s telling the truth.

“He is being brutally honest with himself and thus with the viewer. His work is unfiltered, and he makes what feels right in the moment, be that a painting on pop culture, some pencil drawing caricatures or naturalist bird watercolours.

“The subject matter is mischievous and the colour palette vast. One cannot possibly pigeonhole this artist.”

You could have displayed your work anywhere. Why did you choose Manchester?
I got asked by a lot of galleries and I chose Manchester because I just really love Manchester. I’ve done a lot of work here and I really like it – I think it might be my favourite city. I did Corrie here, I did two series of Hebburn, The Weekenders, Eric and Ernie, and House of Fools filmed here too, so I’ve virtually lived here on and off for quite a long time.

Do you have any favourite places to visit when you’re in town?
I like the art galleries and I also like the Science Museum. I like the shops more than anything though. I do like shopping in Manchester. I just like wandering around the city. I love it.

When it comes to your art, you have a very set routine. You get up early and work until the afternoon. Do you need anything to help get into the zone – music, a cup of tea?
No, I’m never out of the zone. The thing I try to do – and what I mainly strive for – is to get out of the zone and maybe stop thinking about things, but that never really happens. I have to get up early because I have too many thoughts. I wake up in the dead of night with ideas and then try to get back to sleep and wait for a time where I can get up without it sounding too weird.

Are you quite impulsive when you sit down to work?
Yeah. I know what I want to do and I’ve got lists of things that I want to create but most of it is completely impulsive – it just happens. I’m influenced by everything, from the outdoors to TV, things in my mind and the stuff I’ve read.

Your work walks the tightrope of funny and serious. How much do you think about humour when you work?
It depends on if I’m doing something that has a humorous element. It’s part of my life but my work doesn’t dwell entirely on humour. It’s not forced – it just comes out. I’m a conduit for my thoughts and not all of them are comedy. I think it confuses people but I don’t mind that. I like confusing people.

In recent years, it feels very much like Vic Reeves has taken a back seat and Jim Moir has taken the wheel.
Yeah, but I’ve been trying to do that for years. Vic Reeves is just an idea I had but sometimes you have an idea and people run with it and they don’t want to let it go and your life is dictated by newspapers and people rather than you having any control. Quite often, they take over the steering wheel and push you into the passenger seat, then you’ve got to wrestle with the driver to get the steering wheel again.

Had you primarily been known for your artwork when you started out, do you think your comedy would have eventually emerged?
Well, it did go down that route first but it ended up being described as comedy, so I followed that and was kind of dragged into that route. Art was always in my mind and comedy was kind of a side job which took over but if you’re talking about what’s a “main profession”, it’s art now because that’s the one I earn the most money out of.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’re always at the mercy of others in TV but you’re in control of your art. Is that liberating?
That’s quite right – and I do like to be in control. I used to be in control a lot more in television but now people have a lot more meetings where they decide whether something’s “good enough” for TV. When I started, you just sort of did what you wanted and the people in charge thought “Well, people seem to like it” so they’d leave it in my hands. I really like staying at home as well so I can do art at my leisure, do what I want – and be in complete control.

Critics exist in both worlds. How have you found art critics compared to comedy critics?
I don’t like dealing with people who are “in charge”. I’ve always been in charge since I was a kid. I’ve always done whatever I wanted to do and I’ve not really liked being told what to do. I’ve been a rebel forever and I always will be.

Your website features a wide variety of work. I like the pencil drawings of famous ghosts, like David Bowie and Prince…
I did those line drawing ghosts whilst I was doing Coronation Street. I’d be staying at the Holiday Inn watching TV and I’d learn my lines when the adverts were on, then when I’d finished I’d do some line drawings. I paint a lot in hotel rooms. If I’m filming anything I’ll take along my watercolours. There’s a few in this gallery that I did whilst in a hotel room.

There seem to be an increasing number of comedian-turned-artists around, like Harry Hill and Noel Fielding. It’s almost becoming its own sub-genre. What are your thoughts on that?
I think people who are creative think in a certain way. A lot of people like the Rolling Stones, Roxy Music and others who are musicians, they were all at art school. It’s a way of unleashing ideas. It might be in music or it might be in art. It’s all a process. I might think of an idea that might be a good song, sketch, little film or a painting but it all manifests itself in one of those areas.

Would you still be creating art even if no one saw it?
Yes, that’s what I’ve always done. My life has been very good up until now – it’s very down – but even in the real down times, it’s been good enough when I’ve been creating. I did one Christmas in the 1980s where I was living in a squat and all we had for Christmas dinner was flour and wheat pancakes because I was spending all my money on Super 8 film. Art always takes precedence.

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Right up Jim’s street

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.