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Millennium Bridge is a blinking best-seller

David Whetstone looks at art inspired by the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

It is a year since the new Millennium Bridge was lowered into position over the Tyne by the massive floating crane, Asian Hercules II.

The precise date was November 21, 2000. On that day the Tyneside riverscape was changed for the forseeable future and many thousands of people - perhaps with the odd, rare dissenter - decided it was a change for the better.

Having given us a new iconic image in the Angel of the North, Gateshead could now be congratulated for providing another.

As a marvellous feat of engineering or as a feature pleasing to the eye, the "blinking bridge", the first new opening bridge over the Tyne for more than a century, was - and still is - widely admired.

Among the many thousands of people who have travelled to either bank of the Tyne to see the pedestrian bridge have been many photographers, amateur and professional, and a fair sprinkling of painters. The Millennium Bridge, like the Tyne Bridge and other North-East landmarks before it, just asks to be put in the picture.

Newcastle artist Roy Kirton with his painting of the Millennium Bridge 200
Newcastle artist Roy Kirton with his painting of the Millennium Bridge 200

A watercolour of the bridge by Newcastle artist Roy Kirton (pictured) was sold the minute it went on display in Brown's Gallery in Jesmond last month.

"It's just unbelievable, that bridge," declares Roy. "If you go to any of the galleries and ask what sells, they'll tell you, `Do the bridges'.

"A lot of people have been doing the new bridge and it's understandable if you make your living as an artist. There is a tremendous demand."

Roy likes to think he captured a moment in history, depicting the bridge - in a watercolour done `on location' - just after it arrived, with cranes and engineering paraphernalia still visible around it.

"You can put a date on it from the cranes around the new Music Centre and the Baltic. I think a lot of people have done it as if it were all finished. I would like to go back and do another really dramatic one of it, perhaps in pastel.

"I also do a lot of original drawings of the bridges. I like doing the Millennium Bridge because it has a lovely curve to it. It is very sculptural. It is actually quite easy to draw after a while."

He says he has only heard one adverse comment about the "blinking eye", and that from someone complaining that they should have designed it as a road bridge to let cars across and ease congestion on the other Tyne crossings. He scoffs at the notion.

Roy's original painting may be gone but he has had the same image reproduced in a limited edition print run.

Alan Reed, of Ponteland, who shares a gallery in the Eldon Gardens shopping centre with David Welsh, has two original watercolour paintings of the Millennium Bridge on display.

Alan Reed of Ponteland with his painting of the Millennium Bridge 200
Alan Reed of Ponteland with his painting of the Millennium Bridge 200

The bigger, which shows the bridge at sunset, has been turned into a print but the original was bought immediately by a man who lives in Kent and now has 10 of Alan's paintings.

"I like the symmetry of the bridge but it (the sunset picture) was probably one of the hardest watercolours I've done," says Alan.

The main problem was creating in one rapid wash not only the sunset but its reflection in an almost motionless Tyne.

People, it seems, do have a thing about bridges. Alan's new paintings are sandwiched between others showing a bridge in Venice and the Forth Bridge. His earlier Tyne Bridge paintings have attained an added appeal recently because they show the river before the new developments.

"I like the new bridge very much," he says. "I think it's a credit to the engineers and the architects. You do get people who say, `Well, what about the poor?' But if you can generate more wealth by bringing people to see the Baltic and the bridge, I think you can then tackle the wider issues."

The North-East coastline and the bridges have been well documented by Walter Holmes, the Ponteland artist whose pictures are always popular. He, too, has had a go at the Millennium Bridge, with three paintings on show at Collier Framing, Dean Street, Newcastle.

One, in acrylics, shows the cranes standing over the Music Centre Gateshead site and the police launch travelling beneath the bridge.

"It's an elegant structure and of its time," says Walter. "I had a lot of experience with engineers before I became a full-time painter and this is a wonderful piece of engineering."

Walter also likes the bollards in the river, which many people don't. "I've got nothing against them because they create a lot of eddies in the water which adds interest for me. I am always interested in the effect of the light on the water."

He says the bollards also serve a compositional purpose as useful "verticals", more attractive than the squat building housing the Inland Revenue.

Another artist whose work is on display at Collier's is John Coatsworth, of Rowlands Gill, who has portrayed all the favourite Tyneside landmarks in his distinctively wonky and colourful style.

The bridges of the Tyne, with their curves, lend themselves perfectly to this treatment.

There will be many more artistic images of the Millennium Bridge, you can be sure. That, probably, is the best indication of a structure's worth.

 

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