Stratford artist who's turning his home into a gallery
TURKEY basters, spatulas and garlic crushers are essential tools for a chef but according to a Stratford artist, they’re also perfect for painting.
Jon Stiff has transformed his three-storey terraced house in Bull Street into an art gallery crammed with more than 50 pieces of his colourful work.
And the 60-year-old painted every one of them without using a single brush.
“I only joined the art world three years ago and as I didn’t have any experience with brushes, I used my fingers and anything else I could get my hands on,” he explained. “You’d be surprised what you can do with a turkey baster.”
When Jon’s creating, things can get a bit messy but rather than worrying about paint splashes, he’s all for it.
Not only is every wall, ceiling and floor covered with art but so is the sofa, chairs and furniture. Even the kitchen has a gothic vibe, with a hob extractor designed to look like church organ pipes.
Visitors who venture into the back garden discover more paintings and artistically daubed patio tables and chairs.
Jon, whose career background is in construction, renovated the house with his wife Colleen. He runs his business, Stiffy Art – chosen to reflect his nickname at school - from an office at the top of the house.
When not focusing on his installations, Jon’s work as a litigator sees him adjudicating on contentious claims in the construction industry.
After working his way up to managing director of a construction company, he spent four years in the top spot but quickly discovered boardroom life was not for him.
The death of his nephew, Corporal Graeme ‘Stiffy’ Stiff, killed aged 24 while serving in Afghanistan, was the catalyst for change.
“It made me realise life is too short. Being a ‘suit’ for a corporate didn’t sit well with me and I could see my persona was changing drastically. I wanted to be true to myself,” he explained.
Jon’s obsession with art isn’t just focused on his house, in the past 11 years he’s clocked up 227 hours under the needle and spent £17,000 on a full ‘body suit’ of tattoos.
“The only area not covered is my face and fingers,” he said.
“Everything, and I mean everything, else is covered,” he added.
He’s also had Graeme’s name and military number scored across his wrist – “those are now my lottery numbers”, he revealed.
Colleen, who’s been married to Jon for more than 40 years, is unimpressed.
“She deplores tattoos,” he said. “For every pound I’ve spent I’ve had to give her an equivalent pound. I ended up buying her a car.”
But Jon, who has four grown-up daughters and six grandchildren, doesn’t find it holds him back.
“I might be sitting in chambers with a QC when I’m working as a litigator but it’s about what you articulate, not how you look,” he pointed out.
Jon’s art has already brought him a few brushes with fame.
Earlier this year he appeared on the Channel 4 TV show Drawers Off as one of five amateur artists challenged to have a go at nude life-drawing – not just as an artist but also modelling naked with nothing but a tiny towel to protect his modesty.
He loves painting on canvas, leather, linen and glass and has recently teamed up with daughter Carrie, who’s a seamstress, to make canvasses of different sizes and shapes that can be draped from the ceiling.
He’s also picked up a number of private and corporate clients, including one builder who asked him to paint an 11-piece jigsaw and a commission to deck-out an entire office.
He’s also passionate about fundraising for the military charity Help for Heroes and most recently volunteered at a children’s hospice, where he encouraged them to have a go at his paint-throwing style of art.
During the summer, Jon opened up his house to the public and is now working flat out to put together a new portfolio ready for a second event in the spring.
Having recently started taking formal drawing lessons with a local tutor, he says it’s taking his art to a whole new level.
“It’s intoxicating,” he said. “Like learning to ride a bike or to speak a foreign language. I just love it.”