By Andy Hirst, Special Correspondent
Internationally-renowned Huddersfield artist Ian Berry is battling back after he was struck down with Covid-19 and will stage two major exhibitions in the coming months.
But the 37-year-old has revealed the impact from Coronavirus at Christmas has left him with a ‘brain fog’ which he’s still trying to overcome.
Ian hit the headlines nationally last year after he projected giant animated clapping hands on national landmarks such as Blackpool Tower and the Angel of the North as a visual tribute to frontline workers and its fundraising campaign raised thousands of pounds for NHS charities (https://www.iclapfor.com).
It led to a Pin Your Thanks campaign (https://pinyourthanks.org) with celebrities such as Ringo Starr, Keira Knightley, Joe Lycett and Emeli Sande promoting special fundraising badges – including one designed by Ian – representing all the key frontline workers.
Ian has now done a one-off piece to honour the frontline workers – a denim jacket covered in badges representing the different groups of workers who have kept the UK going through the crisis. It will be auctioned off to raise money for the charities NHS Together and Volunteering Matters.
Ian collaborated on the jacket with Jenny Beavan OBE, the Oscar-winning costume designer, and made with Blackhorse Lane in London. Jenny won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design in 1986 for A Room With A View. She also won another Academy Award and the BAFTA Award for Costume Design for Mad Max: Fury Road, and has been nominated 10 times for the Academy Award.
“I feel this spirit of thanks needs to return,” said Ian. “It especially captured the imagination of children with all their pictures of rainbows. My mum wanted a picture of a rainbow but she asked her grandson, Elliott, to do it rather than me, an artist which shows how much it was all about the younger generation. It really helped to bring home to children what was going on in their lives.”
Ian was diagnosed with Covid-19 at Christmas and the restrictions meant he was unable to travel from his London home to spend a few days with parents Eddie and Christine Berry in Netherton, Huddersfield.
He said: “I lost my sense of taste on Christmas Day which was somewhat ironic as I’d cooked my first ever Christmas dinner but was then unable to taste it. I then just felt terrible – lethargic and with no energy – along with the kind of headache you get after an average night out, dull and constant rather than big and pounding.
“Even now I still feel lethargic and have to keep taking breaks which just isn’t like me. I feel a kind of brain fog has descended which means I struggle to concentrate, have a short focus and get irritated. Everything I do seems to take a big effort, especially as I’m often lumping denim about my studio which is quite heavy.”
Ian had a hectic year in 2020 despite Covid-19 with exhibitions in Germany, Switzerland and Holland. The Germany one was at Buttenheim near Nuremberg, the home of Levi Strauss – the inventor of the modern jeans – where people needed tickets to get in and every ticket was taken.
The Dutch one in The Hague began in November but has now had to close due to Covid-19 but should reopen again sometime in the spring.
A planned exhibition in his home town of Huddersfield had to be cancelled but Ian has a massive one at the end of this year and into 2022 at the National Textile Museum in Boras near Gothenburg in Sweden. The museum has a strong emphasis on fashion and is one of the country’s top tourist attractions.
Ian said: “With Huddersfield’s rich textiles heritage and our high-tech university which is renowned for its textile courses it would be great if the museum and the university could be twinned in some way.”
Ian is also hoping to push more into the USA over the coming months and is in talks to stage an exhibition in Italy.
One of Ian’s specialisms is portraits of people in isolation which he did before lockdown but people have sent him photos of themselves at home alone during Covid-19 which he is running alongside his exhibition in Holland. It also features a video about Ian’s clapping hands projections and thanking all the frontline workers from NHS staff to prison officers.
“Several visitors to the exhibition ended up crying after watching it,” said Ian. “It really connected with people.”
He added: “My work is in 3D so people just can’t get the perspective of it looking at it on a screen. My artwork needs to be seen in real life so just let’s hope we can get back to some sort of normality by the end of this year at the latest. I think people are very jaded by these lockdowns and although some people are coming up with creative ways to survive and, in some cases, even thrive, many others are suffering terribly.”
During lockdown Ian also kept busy at home, transforming his living room and a bedroom into denim. The living-room now features denim carpets, a Chesterfield suite and even denim album covers.
Ian lived in Sweden for five years from 2010 to 2015, and has a six-year-old son, Elliott, with Swedish wife Asa.
His family’s roots in Huddersfield can be traced back to World War Two. Ian’s grandfather, Tom Berry, was a Londoner from the East End who was a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Burma with the 23rd Infantry Brigade and then the 77th Indian Infantry Brigade. The 77th served with the British Chindits special forces which often operated behind the front lines in 1943 and 1944.
Tom travelled to Huddersfield guarding Italian prisoners-of-war en route to Mill Hill Hospital in Dalton where he met his wife-to-be, Mary Elliott, who became Head of Domestic Services at the hospital.
The two married and lived at 129 Dalton Green Lane in Dalton and Mary became Mary Berry but the Elliott name has returned to the family as it was the name Ian and Asa chose for their son. Tom died in 1990 with Mary passing away in 2014.
To see more about Ian’s work go to https://www.ianberry.org/artindenim
* This article was written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content ANDY HIRST who now runs his own Huddersfield-based agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting for business in Yorkshire and across the UK.