AS the bright evening sunshine turns the redbrick houses of a typically Edwardian terrace in Swindon a luminous shade of orangey-pink I can see a man at the end of the street comfortably installed on a camping chair who is utterly engrossed in his work with a sketchbook.
I am aiming for a pub – the Steam Railway in Newport Street as it happens – but cannot help stopping to peer over Tim Carroll’s shoulder. One look and I am hooked. He is in the process of completing a strikingly symmetrical pencil drawing of the vista in front of us.
Tim, a professional artist, appears to have captured on his A4 pad the harmony and uniformity of the streetscape: bay windows, garden walls, sloping roofs, front porches, chimney stacks – even the ubiquitous rows of cars parked along both sides of St Margaret’s Road in Old Town.
“I have to include the cars,” he says, examining his work-in-progress. “They are as much a part of the street scene as everything else.”
I am inclined to wonder aloud how he can draw such straight lines with a free hand?
“Oh, there are some wobbly bits,” he says. But I can’t see any.
Tim is involved, it emerges, in a unique local art project that he has recently dreamt up… to paint 100 Views of Swindon in – give or take a few weeks – a year.
It all began in April with a vague notion of producing something a little different from his recent leaps of imagination or classically-inspired themes which bear titles such as Dance III – Garden of Hesperides.
Also, he quite fancied working outdoors but without the hassle of dragging brushes and paints around, or parking himself with a large easel “like some peculiar character at the end of the street.”
Then it dawned: all he needed was a standard sketchbook; he could finish the rest of the painting back at the studio.
Tim decided to render a local street scene as accurately as possible and for no particular reason chose Sunnyside Avenue off Kingshill Road, as viewed somewhat panoramically from The Heights. Mmm! He was rather pleased with the result. “It came out quite well,” he recalls. How about a series of Swindon streetscapes, he pondered. And then… why not a hundred of them depicting both the changes of Swindon during the seasons and also the immense physical upheavals – buildings going up, others coming down – that the town is currently undergoing.
Creating pencil sketches is the first – and trickiest – stage. It takes between one-and-a-half to three hours for Tim to produce one of these carefully detailed, meticulously aligned drawings.
“Drawing is hard work,” he says. “Something like this involves a lot of focus and concentration.
“It’s quite a weird feeling. After a while you suddenly start seeing things you hadn’t noticed before… like flapping laundry on a washing line. I’m spending a couple of hours scrutinising a view you would normally look at for two or three seconds.”
Having finished a “sketch” – though the word hardly does justice to such elaborate, clinically-executed drawings – he goes on to produce a vivid, full-colour acrylic version several hours later, with the aid of a few photos to remind him of the day’s shades and colours.
At the time of writing he had completed 23 of the pieces and should be well past the venture’s quarter stage by the time this article is in print.
“Twenty three is very good going,” he says. “I’ve been averaging about two a week but it’s easy to get distracted with other commitments.”
At his home-cum-studio, Tim lays most of the paintings on the floor, creating a striking collage showing fleeting glimpses of Swindon. It becomes a game trying to recognise them all. Street signs are, of course, a useful clue. Any favourites so far?
“I really like the Technical College,” he says, examining his recent take on the familiar Victorian landmark at the foot of Vic Hill. Its redbrick presence is conspicuously offset by the creamy stone monolith looming in its shadow, the new Regent Circus development.
Crombey Street, too, is another favourite.
“The sky looks very Simpsons, but that’s exactly how it was when I was there.”
The juxtaposition of the old and the new is a recurring theme – unblemished new towers peeking over Victorian terraces.
After further examination of these works, which are scattered around the floor, he points to one and says: “I like that. It’s got three well known Swindon buildings all in one view.”
They are St Mark’s church spire, the old GWR Pattern Shop and the David Murray John Tower, thoughtfully arranged as if in anticipation of Tim’s project.
“You can’t really ignore the David Murray John Tower if you are drawing scenes of Swindon. Why would you want to?” he says.
Swindon’s tallest building certainly pops up quite often, mostly in the distance.
He goes on: “They are quite accurate at the moment. As accurate as I can make them without using a ruler. But they don’t all work… some of them aren’t that interesting.”
Tim has decided to portray the next 25 in watercolour, and a further raft of Swindon views in another medium, perhaps mono print (an impression made from a block.) “I am worried about them all becoming a bit samey. There’s no point in banging out similar looking reproductions all the time.” How does he choose which Swindon scenes to portray? “There’s no logic…. I’ll see a certain view and think ‘I’ll do that one.’”
Admiring The Plough in Croft Road, with its eye-catching grey façade, I can’t help grinning at the figure who has just emerged from the bar. It is Stevie Gerrard in full World Cup England regalia, stretching his legs next to a mobility scooter.
And why is TV archaeologist Mary Beard poking around in Dowling Street instead of poking around in ancient Rome?
“I’d like to work up a few people – I’m toying with the idea of populating the street scenes a bit,” muses Tim.
Stevie and Mary aside, the only other living creature in his Twenty Three Views of Swindon So Far is a crow.
Tim is aware of an artist in Bath who turns out replica images of the city’s genteel Regency structures and flogs them to throngs of Japanese and American tourists.
But Swindon, most definitely, is not Bath. “Swindon is architecturally challenged, you have to be fair,” he shrugs.
When the project winds up in a year or so he would like to exhibit the works altogether – just once – as a kind of crowning glory.
“It would be nice to see them all on one wall.” After that he will sell them; maybe one by one, or perhaps in blocks, area by area.
Studying the predominantly bright and breezy scenes reminds Tim of the agreeable climes in which he has worked alfresco over the past few months.
“It’s been such a fantastic summer. There have been some electric blue skies.”
Bulging rainclouds, plunging temperatures, woolly jumpers and plastic macs, alas, await… l Tim’s Views of Swindon can be seen, alongside many other of his works, as part of the Swindon Open Studios event this month. Members of the public can visit his studio at 52 St Margaret’s Road, Old Town, SN3 1RX either this Saturday or Sunday (Sept 6/7) or the following Sunday, September 14. They may even get a cuppa.
STARS ON OUR STREETS
Bob Dylan chilling out in Colbourne Street. Elvis with a bag of chips in Eastcott Hill. Marilyn Monroe oozing glamour in Western Street. The Beatles strolling through the town centre, Abbey Road style.
Twelve years ago Tim created an amusing series of Stars in Swindon paintings, superimposing our heroes onto a number of local scenes.
A fine arts graduate from Leeds University, Tim, 55, has been a leading figure in the Swindon arts scene for many years.
On one occasion he and fellow artist Gordon Dickinson converted a condom machine at the Beehive pub in Prospect Hill into an ‘art box’ – inviting regulars to stick £1 in for a miniature piece of art they had come up with.