Back When he was playing Vic Reeves, a bit of arrogance was part of the joke. The comedian has been describing himself as “Britain’s best light artist”, making his work perfectly mastered: a blend of muted variations showing glamor and skin-thinness (with a dose of surrealism, too). But nowadays, the man known to his friends as Jim Muir – is He plans to retire his ego next year – He really can give himself the highest bill without any hint of sarcasm. Because Muir became one of the most prolific painters in the country. This week he will open an exhibition at RedHouse Originals Gallery in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, the fifth of its kind in the year so far after shows in Jersey, Penzance, Northampton. and London.
Sitting in his studio in his home in Kent, Muir paints, as he does almost every day soon after waking up, says he feels “amazed”. He has a rule that he only draws it when he’s in the mood, so as not to force it. Fortunately for him, he’s in the mood 90% of the time, producing “thousands” of paintings a year.
“Painting is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “Even while doing Vic and Bob shows, the art was always there, even when it looked like it was in the background. Now, though, I can sit in my studio all day, on my own schedule.”
The new show is called Yorkshire Rocks & Dinghy fights and features “about 57” paintings, each unmistakably Moorish, with strands of Dadaist surrealism for which he is known along with more realistic works. There are David Bowie boots—recognizable as their bright red, nearly knee-high platforms designed for the 1973 Aladdin-Sun tour—along with birds, northern geologists, and people disposing of boats.
“my son [Louis] He directs movies, and he did A movie about comedy and arts. Two years ago he said I should go to Briham Rocks and he was filming me drawing something, so I did. “
The 180-hectare site in North Yorkshire is under the control of the National Trust and is known for its weather-eroded rocks reminiscent of Henry Moore’s sculptures. It’s easy to imagine Moir’s Brimham Rocks 2 as the cover of a 1970s brogue album (the pink and blue board is not a million miles from In the Crimson King’s Court of King Crimson), while the face shown in Brimham Rocks (Yellow) is a chime for Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Muir says, “but if you go there that’s what it’s going to look like. I wasn’t trying to force it, it’s just what it looks like. Everyone should go to Briham Rocks, you’ll have things coming out of The deep channels in your mind.”
Meanwhile, the titular boat fights were inspired by a 1963 British film he doesn’t remember the name of (“not even a B movie”) — but had a nice punch.
“This got me thinking: Where is the most ridiculous place to have a punch? Maybe on a boat. So it’s all that simple, really. But it’s not just about fights, there are kidnappings too,” he says proudly.
This is the first time that Muir, born in Leeds in 1959, has shown his work in his hometown. “I have a very good feeling about this. I don’t know why. But I know how people are in Yorkshire, and it would be less snooty than you might get at a London fair. When Bob and I used to tour, the audiences in Manchester, York and Leeds were always better. Maybe. That’s what I assign it to.”
With the show ready to go and The book of bird paintings is now published, Muir has turned his attention to his next project, the Sky Arts series that will see him draw more of his feathered friends. Next, he will travel with his wife, Nancy, across the country to see the birds in their natural habitat.
The series will feature time-lapse footage of Muir working on his beloved bird paintings, something he’s not so keen on—”your brain keeps telling you you’re going to paint badly and it’s tempting to listen”—but he’s learning to conquer it. In addition, if this means that he is going to travel around the country with his wife, drawing, then he will bear it.
“If I could tell the 25-year-old Vic he was putting on a show like that, he’d say, ‘Oh, finally! “When I was 25, my party trick was to get a Collins Bird book, tell someone to open it at what page, and I would tell them what the birds were and all the facts,” he says. “It was no surprise that all of this happened, but I would have loved to hear it.”
Muir has been birdwatching since he was a young child, but says he veered away from rural activities in the middle years in favor of pubs. “If anything, the comedy was a distraction.”
His comedian partner Bob Mortimer is back at the BBC for another series Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gold Hunting And as Moir embarks on birdwatching adventures, it’s gratifying to see two icons of ’90s alternative comics evolve into more subtle endeavours. Muir doesn’t think his art show will become as popular as Mortimer’s Hunting Show (which he loves), but he’s not opposed to the idea.
“Bill O’Day told me a long time ago that if the enthusiasm was palpable, you could watch anyone do anything, no matter how much you knew a subject,” he says. “There’s a lot of hypocrisy these days, so it’s refreshing to see the enthusiasm.”
Maybe he and Mortimer could unite to fish and watch amazing birds?
“I think hunting was one of the most popular hobbies in Britain, but since the lockdown it has become birdwatching,” he says. Between us we cover both bases. I draw the line when collecting stamps, but if someone has just the right amount of enthusiasm, who knows, that might be great! There must be comedians who love stamps – we just have to get them to admit it.”
Yorkshire Rocks & Dinghy Fights opens today September 22 at RedHouse Originals in Harrogate.