Artist Rob Shaw was exhibiting paintings before he even knew it.
Ok, so they might have been in his dad’s local pub at the bottom of Staithes village but everyone’s got to start somewhere.
And it paid off because Rob (39) is now fetching £10,000 for some pieces of work.
He may have travelled around a bit, started off on a very different career path and not even be a native of Staithes but something is keeping him there, something that he can’t quite explain other than by saying “Staithes is a very unique place, I have that quirkiness and it works for me here.”
It was a painting of Staithes he did about 20 years ago that made him realise that the day job designing the inside of TK Maxx stores wasn’t really cutting it anymore, so he swapped them for a draughty run down chapel in the village that freezes on the insides of the windows in winter and shakes in strong winds.
He said: “I bought some watercolours and went to Whitby and thought I would do some paintings and sell them to tourists but couldn’t really do it. So I went and bought a massive canvas panel and came to Staithes one day with some oil paints.
“It was before the breakwater was built and waves were crashing over the cottages and did my first painting. I went back to university, got my degree but kept painting Staithes even though I was 300 miles away.”
Unbeknownst to Rob, who thought he was throwing out pieces he wasn’t happy with, these paintings were being scurried away by dad Cyril who was keeping them under his bed and having them hung up in the Cod and Lobster. When one sold he would replace it with another.
In the meantime Rob had come to the conclusion department stores perhaps weren’t creative enough for him. So in 2006, two years before re-locating to Staithes where his parents had moved to from Derbyshire, he became a full-time artist.
“I was actually doing very well and by the time I had finished I was running the whole design office. I don’t know how much you know about what goes into a TK Maxx store but it’s quite minimalist. I was crunching figures and had always wanted to paint.
“People say it was a brave thing to do but I didn’t even think about it, it seemed straight forward to me - that is what I wanted to do.”
Around the same time he teamed up with David and Ali Milnes who own the Staithes Gallery and that is primarily where his works are exhibited and sold - although an artist’s living is nothing to be compared to that of an interior designer.
Rob says it has to be more of a lifestyle choice but can’t deny the buzz he gets when a piece of work sells.
Last year he was judged worthy by a panel of selectors, after an 11 second audition process, to exhibit at the Royal Academy in London. He had done a scene of London to tie in with the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A pretty amazing feat considering there are only 100 slots for unknown artists and 13,000 people battling to get one, so to get another slot again this year is almost unheard of.
Even better then that, when he arrived at the exhibition with a view to showing his work to a prospective buyer, he found a sold sticker had been slapped on the piece with a £10,000 price tag.
He said: “The money is only there to serve one purpose and that is to carry on painting. If you want to be rich choose a different career. I sell a painting for £10,000 and in a couple of months it has gone. Artists still have bills and mortgages to pay.
“I don’t see it as a living but a way of life. All the things I am doing now, I had in my head at 20 but didn’t have the skill level to achieve it. I am 40 next year and it has taken me that long.”
It is also potentially taking him to the Affordable Art Fair in New York where he hopes to put up four cityscapes of New York – all done in the abandoned chapel in Staithes,
He said: “Nobody ever asks where you painted it but I like to prod the establishment to see if I can do it. If it works I want to do Tokyo and Singapore and again it will be from here in Staithes.”
His head is fizzing with ideas and he can be working on between 20 and 30 pieces at a time. He will spend an hour on one piece than flit to another, and sometimes he will work through the night earning him the nickname of ‘battery artist’ because he only comes out for a few hours of daylight.
But there is one thing that helps him retain some sense of normality – three-year-old daughter Bella who despite following in daddy’s footsteps is also his biggest critic.
He added: “I have to paint. It put you out of odds with everything else. It is like insomnia but when I have Bella I can’t do that. She gets the brushes out and she knows what she is doing. I have sold paintings for £5,000 and £10,000 but when I showed Bella she said ‘it’s not finished daddy’.