Jen Orpin paints Britain’s motorways

Post-war infrastructure takes on a starring role

Artist Jen Orpin depicts dream-like empty roads and motorway bridges in her new painting series, which explores the ideas of memories and landmarks and is on show at Manchester’s The Modernist gallery.

Orpin’s luminous paintings feature the monumental postwar infrastructure that lies on Britain’s arterial routes. These often-overlooked concrete structures sit between big skies and long tarmac roads and are part of a landscape in motion, appearing like they are about to vanish into the distance.

Orpin decided to paint these streamlined landmarks because they sparked memories of journeys she undertook after her late father suffered from a stroke in September 2015. For three months, Orpin drove from her home in Manchester to a hospital in Surrey to be with him and her family, going along the M56, M6, M42, M40, and the M25 every Monday and Friday.

‘I got to know the route well,’ explains Orpin, who has completed more than 140 road paintings over the past three years. ‘It ended up being an unexpected time of thinking and reflection before the grim reality of walking through the hospital doors. What occurred to me throughout the years, after this devastating event, was how many feelings, emotions and memories were sparked by the various sections of the motorway and the landmarks and bridges along the way. These liminal spaces were places, all significant and the feelings they provoked so visceral.’

Safe Passage, Jen Orpin
‘Safe Passage’ by Jen Orpin (c)

Orpin’s paintings focus on the road ahead and are lifted with dramatic clouds and bright sunlight. They are painted from the driver’s perspective, so the viewer feels as though they are on that journey, and while Orpin captures the roads at different times of the day and in various weather conditions, they are always devoid of human life. ‘When you look at my paintings, you are the person on the road,’ Orpin said. ‘It’s your journey, your place and time, and you’re the only one on that journey.’

‘Silent Cursors. Punctuated Journeys’ runs until 26 June 2021 at The Modernist gallery

'Snowhill Lane Bridge, M6' by Jen Orpin (c)
‘Snowhill Lane Bridge, M6’ by Jen Orpin (c)
'Significant Structures' by Jen Orpin (c)
‘Significant Structures’ by Jen Orpin (c)
'After The Rain' by Jen Orpin
‘After The Rain’ by Jen Orpin (c)

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