Alex Cunningham, barman and illustrator

9th March 2015

By Paul OLeary

Alex is a fascinating character. It’s people like Alex that make the British pub. A proper pub should have staff that actually like people, that want to chat to you, they should know what you drink and have it pouring before you even ask. A great barman or barmaid cares, sympathises, advises and entertains. Flexibility and the odd favour are always so appreciated. If favours were currency, the exchange rate would be huge.

My village has 3 pubs and they are all lovely in different ways. The best bit about them is the staff; they are fascinating and they each have a story to tell. I am almost notorious for head hunting bar staff or checkout girls. One of our Accounting staff worked behind the bar and wanted to study accounting, so we employed them and paid for the exams. We have a lovely receptionist who served me in Halfords so graciously once that I had to ask her to pop into the Mill if she ever fancied a change. In fact, that reminds me, our Creative Director Helen was working in a Deli 10 years ago, when I caught up with her in the car park and asked if she enjoyed her job.

In the pub, out of respect of course I square it with the landlord first. It’s kind of an old fashioned thing, like asking the Father for his daughter’s hand before you even mention it to her. Kind of silly, but nice.

I can’t help seeing the potential in people and then instinctively I just have to help them. And so we come to Alex.

He studied Fine Art and has worked behind a bar ever since. This is not untypical of Fine Artists; it is after all, 3 years of pure self indulgence. There’s no job at the end of it and even the very best struggle to make a living. But I have employed several Fine Artists over the years; they are different, they add something into the mix which is much needed in a creative environment. They are a little bit naive, invariably funny, sometimes awkward or even miserable, but they have a spark of something that I love and they have talent. It’s ok being broke when you’re 20, but it’s a bit sad if you’re still broke at 30 and I can usually find a way for them not to be broke forever.



They deserve to be rewarded for being able to do something that the rest of us can’t, and if I can’t offer them any work, at least I can champion their cause. I have watched Alex with keen interest for 5 years and felt his trials and tribulations. All the while I’ve tried to encourage him to keep up with his artwork, because he’s got something.

I think I have been to the last 33 Fine Art degree shows. There you will see a few dozen painters exhibiting and unfortunately they are all being different in just the same way that Fine Art students were being different last year and the year before and the year before that. I walk through Fine Art exhibitions at a pace; passing cubicles with just the merest glance. I’m embarrassed if I go in and then just want to walk out again, while the painter is sitting there. Sometimes you see enough to entice you and if your interest is held for some minutes, then they’ve got something, something rare. They are in just their own particular little way…..unique.

If I had seen Alex’s dogs with balloons show, he would have been one of those that were different. I haven’t seen dogs and balloons before; it might not seem that clever, but you try coming up with something original out of thin air. Ever since, Alex has been working in my local pub and I have gradually got to know him. His work is, as I have come to expect, a reflection of his mood. I don’t mean a fleeting mood swing, I mean his general outlook on life.

For a time you might have looked at Alex’s work and thought: If he didn’t paint he’d probably do drugs or self harm. There was always something a bit reactionary about his work, girls with attitude and homemade tattoos. Faces who looked as trapped as a Russian doll, imagine being trapped inside a dozen layers of yourself and knowing that no-one could ever see the real tiny little me. Every character had a fag on and was up for fighting against the world, at least inside their head if not outwardly. All of these characters are about the way Alex feels, about his life, his friends, his job, where he lives.



So why am I writing about Alex now; because his work is changing. And that’s because Alex is changing. In the last year he’s finally been offered some responsibility, he’s moved out of his parents and into his own place and joy of joys, he’s found love, hooray for Alex, he so deserves it.

And now his work has something extra, it’s still unique, still edgy but added to it is beauty and affection.

Ginger is his best work to date and cat-woman, who’s not finished enough to put on the site yet is up there with Ginge. Watch this space, because I think Alex Cunningham will get there, he’s a true pioneer and there’s nothing fake about him or his art. By the way, Fine Artist’s don’t need paint any more. I find the videos of his work being created as fascinating as the finished article. Watch this and witness a bit of genius.


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