‘The comedy was a distraction’: Jim Moir left Vic Reeves to paint rocks all day | Paint

BWhen he performed as Vic Reeves, a little hubris was part of the joke. The comedian would bill himself as “Britain’s best light entertainer”, which completed his act perfectly: a mix of faded variety glamor and thin-skinned pomp (with a dose of surrealism too). But these days, the man known to friends as Jim Moir — he plans to retire his alter ego next year — can really give himself a top bill without a hint of irony. Because Moir has become one of the most prolific painters in the country. This week he opens an exhibition at the RedHouse Originals gallery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, his fifth of the year so far after shows in Jersey, Penzance, Northampton and London.

While he paints in his studio at home in Kent, as he does almost every day shortly after waking up, Moir says he feels “baffling”. He has a rule that he only paints when he’s in the mood, so as not to force it. Luckily for him, he’s in the mood 90% of the time and makes “thousands” of paintings a year.

“Painting is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “Even during Vic and Bob’s shows, the art was always there, even if it seemed like it was in the background. But now I can sit in my studio all day, with my own schedule.”

The face depicted in Brimham Rocks (yellow) is a ringtone for Ghostbusters' Stay Puft.
The face depicted in Brimham Rocks (yellow) is a ringtone for Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft. Photo: Jim Moir

The new show is called Yorkshire Rocks & Dinghy Fights and features “about 57” paintings, each unmistakably Moirish, depicting threads of the Dadaist surrealism he is known for, alongside more realistic works. There’s David Bowie’s boots—recognizable by the gleaming red, almost knee-high platforms created for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour—alongside birds, northern geology, and people sneaking on boats.

“My son [Louis] directs movies, and he made a movie about people who do comedy and art. A few years ago he told me to go to Brimham Rocks and he would film me painting something, so I did.”

The 180-acre site in North Yorkshire is managed by the National Trust and is known for its weathered rocks reminiscent of Henry Moore sculptures. It’s easy to imagine Moir’s Brimham Rocks 2 as the cover of a 1970s prog album (the pink and blue palette isn’t a million miles from King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King), while the face depicted in Brimham Rocks (Yellow) is a ringer for Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft.

‘That’s exactly what I thought,’ says Moir, ‘but if you go there, it looks like this. I wasn’t trying to force that, it’s just what it looks like. Everyone should go to Brimham Rocks, things come from the deep channels of your mind.”

'It's not just fights: there are also kidnappings'… Canal Kidnapping.
‘It’s not just fights: there are also kidnappings’… Canal Kidnapping. Photo: Jim Moir

The titular dinghy fights, meanwhile, were inspired by a 1963 British film that he can’t remember the name of (“not even a B movie”) – but it did pack a fantastic punch.

“That got me thinking: where’s the most ridiculous place to punch? Probably on a sloop. So it’s really all that simple. But it’s not just fights: there are also kidnappings,” he says proudly.

Born in Leeds in 1959, it is the first time that Moir has shown his work in his native country. “I have a very good feeling about this. I do not know why. But I know how people are in Yorkshire, and it will be less snooty than in a London gallery. When Bob and I toured, the crowds in Manchester, York and Leeds were always better. Maybe that’s what I base it on.”

With the exhibition almost ready to go and a book of bird paintings now released, Moir has turned his attention to his next project, a Sky Arts series in which he will paint more of his feathered friends. He then travels across the country with his wife Nancy to see the birds in their natural habitat.

A self portrait.
Cool Stance Guy Elvis (self portrait). Photo: Jim Moir

The series will feature time-lapse footage of Moir working on his much-loved bird paintings, something he’s not very excited about — “your mind keeps telling you you’re going to paint badly and it’s tempting to listen” — but it’s learning to vanquish . And if it means that he is allowed to travel across the country with his wife to paint, then he will bear it.

“If I could tell 25-year-old Vic that he was doing a show like this, he’d be like, ‘Oh, finally!’ When I was 25, my party trick was to get a Collins bird book, tell someone to open it at any page and I’d tell them what the birds were and all the facts,” he says. “It wouldn’t be a surprise. have been that all this would happen, but I would have loved to hear it.”

Moir has been birdwatching since he was a small child, but says he renounced rural activities in favor of pubs in the middle years. “If anything, the comedy was a distraction.”

“If I could tell 25-year-old Vic that he was doing a show like this, he'd say:
“If I could tell 25-year-old Vic that he was doing a show like this, he’d be like, ‘Oh, finally!”… Owl. Photo: Jim Moir

As his comedy partner Bob Mortimer returns to the BBC for a new series Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing and Moir embarks on his birdwatching adventures, it’s heartwarming to watch two icons of ’90s alternative comedy evolve into softer pursuits. Moir doesn’t think his art show will become as popular as Mortimer’s fish show (which he loves), but he’s not against the idea.

“Bill Oddie told me a long time ago that when the enthusiasm is clear, you can see everyone doing everything, no matter how much you know about a subject yourself,” he says. “There’s a lot of insincerity these days, so it’s refreshing to see enthusiasm.”

Maybe he and Mortimer can band together for a spectacle of fishing and birdwatching?

“I think fishing used to be the biggest hobby in Britain, but since the lockdown it’s been birdwatching,” he says. “Between us, we cover both bases. I draw the line when collecting stamps, but if someone has the right amount of enthusiasm, who knows, it might just be brilliant! There must be comedians with a penchant for stamps – we just need to get them to admit it.”

Yorkshire Rocks & Dinghy Fights opens September 22 at RedHouse Originals in Harrogate.

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