FOR Saddleworth School teacher turned artist Steve Capper, everything came into focus when he took early retirement at 52.

During 30 years as a secondary school art teacher, bringing up a family and running a commercial pottery, he didn’t have much time for painting.

But chalking up an end to his career was a fresh canvas for Steve, now aged 74, from Delph, who is preparing to stage a solo exhibition at Gateway Gallery in Hale, Trafford, titled Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies.

Steve’s work, which is held in numerous private collections, encompasses both landscapes and still life.

“My landscapes aren’t accurate representations of actual locations; they are composites and I aim to convey the feeling of a place rather than simply recreate it,” he said.

“The shapes and colours however are definitely inspired by my Pennine surroundings.

“I sold a painting in Yorkshire recently and the buyer said they immediately recognised it as Saddleworth.”

Growing up in Audenshaw and Droylsden in the post-Second World War period, Steve first began painting when he was accepted into the Manchester High School of Art in 1955.

“We were very lucky in Manchester at that time,” he said.

“I passed the 11-plus, but didn’t get a good enough mark for grammar school. So off I went to the School of Art, not yet knowing that I was about to be educated by some of the best teachers in the country.

“Our music teacher was a concert pianist, our English teacher a dramatist and every available surface was covered with painting, drawing and sculpture. I couldn’t help but be inspired and went on to art college and later university”

Steve progressed to Bretton Hall in 1968, where he graduated in fine art. He then Steve secured an art teaching post at Saddleworth School and rose to head of faculty and remained there until he took early retirement in 1996.

Despite spending 30 years away from his easel, Steve has no regrets. “It was a different phase of my life,” he said..

“I got a lot out of teaching and was very happy most of the time.

“I didn’t plan to retire at 52, but when the opportunity came up, I grabbed it.”

Susan Eyres, director of the Gateway Gallery, which specialises in modern British art, said: “Steve’s bold and contemporary use of colour, and willingness to experiment with texture, places him at the forefront of those who are taking northern art in a new direction.”

The exhibition is held from Thursday until May 17.