Jen Orpin is making a huge name for herself in the world of art, and her main subject matter isn’t quite what you probably had in mind when thinking of classical art.
Deserted motorways, decrepit bridges and overpasses you’ve all probably seen stuck in traffic around Manchester.
She is carving out a distinctive niche that challenges conventional perceptions of what art should be.
Her canvas is the forgotten, the overlooked – the utilitarian motorway bridges and deserted overpasses that we encounter in our daily lives.
Through her lens, these utilitarian structures transcend their functional existence, becoming a reflection of memory, nostalgia, and unique British identity.
There is a strange, familiar beauty in her work which documents the bridges across our motorways, overpasses and other functional landscapes of familiar places.
Her work is also going global, with an exhibition planned in Seoul, South Korea and also a show at Art Busan.
“I’ve been an artist in Manchester for 30 years.
“My work is perceived as a bit out there, but very uniquely British, so it will be interesting to see how it’s received in South Korea.
“It seems to have connected with a lot of people.”
Jen’s art, while featuring the brutal concrete, curves and concrete in nature, is more about memory and nostalgia, the motorway not just being a conduit for traffic and cars, but for emotions, feelings and memories.
“I think roads and bridges, are quite universal. The sky also, you’ll look out of the window and see these beautiful skies and landscapes, I’ve tried to capture them in my work.”
Jen Orpin gave up a solid job as a restaurant manager in 2012 to take up art full-time.
“Trying to do both, it just wasn’t working.
“It got to a point where I thought, if not now, when? I didn’t want to look back in ten years and think, gee, I wish I’d done this sooner.
“So I took a leap.”
Jen has found that the extra time she can dedicate to her craft has allowed her to develop her style, experiment and importantly, make mistakes.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made” she added.
Jen originally came to Manchester in 1993, where she studied Fine Art at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Enjoying the city so much, she has made a home in Hulme.
“I just loved the city, everyone is so friendly and easygoing. Living through the 90s here too, wow. I’ve got a great group of friends so I stayed.
There is a poignant story behind Jen’s subject matter.
“In 2015, my dad had a stroke so I’d be driving down to a hospital just inside the M25 twice a week.
“The different bridges and landmarks made me feel either closer, or further away from Dad.
“He was there for three months, so it was a lot of trips – I got to know the route like the back of my hand.
“For me, that time spent alone, trying to process emotions and information, of what was happening and what was about to happen.”
Jen now has nearly 600 paintings of various bridges and motorways in her collection, including several in Manchester and the famous PIES bridge on the M6.
“Understandably, it was an emotional time – but it was strangely nostalgic, spending time with my siblings, for the first time since we all became adults. Spending so much time in this really intense kind of environment and situation.
“It took me back to a time with Dad when he used to put us in the back of the car and we’d all slide about in the ‘70s with no seatbelts on.”
Understandably, Jen has an emotional attachment to the paintings, the connections she has re-made with her family and the emotion of driving down to see her dad.
You’ll notice in the works that there are no cars, which was a conscious choice, said Jen.
“I think you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever been on these roads how hard it is to get a photo of one of them with no cars on it! They are always chokka with traffic.
“I don’t want to distract from the journey. I think without people, the work comes with an invitation of intimacy between you and the painting. There’s nobody else in it to disturb that. It’s about the relationship between the viewer and the painting.”
Jen said she liked to paint things that we might miss unless stuck in traffic, these structures.
“What I’m subconsciously doing is saying look at this, look at the light hitting this, the concrete curves, the beautiful pillars of the shadows on the road.
“And for me, that’s beautiful!
“The Graffiti too – people have risked their lives to hang over the edges and paint this, It’s fascinating and a thing of beauty, in a way.
“Some people might think it’s a bit weird or boring, but I love it.
“Another important aspect is people using graffiti on bridges as a form of protest – for example, the No War but Class War over the M60 Denton Roundabout. It’s been painted over now, with abolish the parasite class. It’s interesting that people are using these bridges as a canvas to protest.
Jen has been working on the motorway paintings since 2018.
Why not check out her work on her website by clicking here and see how many look familiar?
You can also buy prints here.
“People often ask me to paint their favourite bridge, then share their emotional connection to that place. It’s really sweet, and I love doing it.
“The same way I associate these bridges and journeys with my dad, people have their own stories to tell behind these landmarks.
Jen’s work has recently been acquired by Manchester Art Gallery and will sit alongside Manchester Legends such as Lowry and Adolph Valette