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Richard Sharland

Environmental art meets Carbon Literacy

When artist and environmentalist Richard Sharland was 18, he went to live in the woods. “I gave up on the world,” he says. “It was when I came back that I started to work on the environment and reintegrate.” Sharland went on to be Manchester City Council’s head of environmental strategy, where he played a key role in policy development for over 25 years, but it was this early experience that formed the inspiration for one of his recent paintings, a vibrant triptych called 'As We Were in the Forest'.

The triptych, along with many other paintings, will be displayed at What the Light was Like, an exhibition running at Piccadilly Place until 6 May. The collection, which spans a decade of Sharland’s work, features a broad range of styles and influences. Some are detailed, intricate depictions of landscapes, while others are large, abstract works – all are incredibly colourful.

“There are quite a few paintings here that are directly or indirectly related to my other work [in the environmental sector] showing my response and my views about the environment – which aren’t just mental, they’re also a set of feelings.” He gestures towards an abstract, electric blue painting. “This painting is based on a place in Hawaii, where I had a little epiphany about Gary Snyder’s book from 1974, Turtle Island. It’s a book of poetry but actually it’s an environmental manifesto. It’s really interesting reading it 40 years later, it’s very prescient.”

Locations and landscapes are a common theme in Sharland’s work; places featured include Cornwall, Menorca, Northumberland and North America. “They may be of places, or related to places, but they’re actually about experiences. I’m interested in not just how a place looks, but how it feels, how I’m feeling about a situation, and how that resonates in a landscape.”

Despite the varying textures, styles and use of colour, all of Sharland’s paintings play with light – hence the name of the exhibition. “One of the things I love about being in the landscape,” he says, “is you can sit in a place, on a particular day, under particular conditions and it looks a certain way. You go back the next day and it looks completely different, because of the light – that’s one of the joys of the climate in this country – it changes daily, even hourly.”

The exhibition will support The Carbon Literacy Project (CLP), to which 25% of the funds raised will be donated. “It’s a charity dedicated to helping and facilitating people to become as literate about the environment as they are about reading, writing and numbers,” says Sharland. “The organisation emerged out of climate change strategy for the city. In the focus groups for Manchester: A Certain Future, there was a lot of discussion about how to take forward the cultural side of climate change. Everyone agreed that a goal to introduce Carbon Literacy to everyone in the city was a good target to have. The Carbon Literacy Project came out of that action.”

Sharland wanted the proceeds from his exhibition to support a particular CLP initiative. “The team came back to me and said it would be nice to offer small amounts of money to young people who have an idea, something they would like to do.”

Bursaries of up to £100 will be awarded to ‘the most effective and innovative’ schemes proposed by people aged between 11 and 17 from Greater Manchester. The aim is to enable young people to become Carbon Literate and develop their own carbon ideas in support of Manchester: A Certain Future.

“We want to leave the conditions and guidelines relatively open to encourage novel ideas,” says Virginia Harvey, project coordinator at Cooler Projects, which is coordinating The Carbon Literacy Project on behalf of the Trust. “We’re looking for great, inspired ideas of how young applicants feel they can make personal and group changes to reduce their carbon footprints and encourage others to do so.”



Richard Sharland worked for Manchester City Council from 2009 - 2013. He worked for Groundwork from 1994 - 1999, and was Director of Lancashire Wildlife Trust from 1985 - 1994.

Main image courtesy of Lucy Ridges.