Brothers in art

Brian Travers of UB40 and John Illsley of Dire Straits at the Kempinski Hotel on Thursday.
Brian Travers of UB40 and John Illsley of Dire Straits at the Kempinski Hotel on Thursday. / A. Bolton
  • UB40 and Dire Straits musicians swap instruments for paintbrushes in an Estepona exhibition

Two British music legends unveiled exclusive album covers in Estepona this week.

Brian Travers from UB40 and John Illsley from Dire Straits are showing the artwork as part of a free exhibition that opened on Thursday at the Kempinski Hotel.

The show includes 21 pieces of their art that will be on display to the public from now until early next year.

Brian and John have always had a passion for painting, both of them studying at art school before getting into music.

However, the rigours of recording and touring stopped them from producing the works they wanted to.

Brian, 59, who is a founding member of UB40 and the band's saxophonist, told SUR in English that he only started painting commercially six years ago.

He said: "I didn't start intentionally. I had a friend with an art gallery who asked me to let him exhibit some of my pictures. I used to give them away before then. But now I just feel very privileged to have the opportunity to exhibit my artwork to be honest.

"We are all trying to express ourselves with music, which is a bit of a team effort in a band. But there's a lot of peace and solitude in painting on your own. Whether mine is any good or not, I don't know!"

Grenfell tribute

For the Many is UB40's first studio album in six years and celebrates the band's 40th anniversary. The album cover is a tribute to Grenfell Tower survivors and is a representation of a whole skyline of Grenfell Towers.

Travers with the artwork for the latest UB40 album cover.

Travers with the artwork for the latest UB40 album cover. / A. Bolton

Brian explained: "We are all socialists and Labour supporters and I was asked to paint a picture of the Grenfell Tower to remember these people, that's why it's called For the Many, as Labour's saying is 'For the many, not the few'."

Brian, who became friends with John Illsley after doing a show together in Mayfair recently, added that his passion for art started when he and fellow UB40 band members first met as youngsters.

He added: "We studied art together, history, appreciation and all that sort of thing. But of course it was wasted on us at that age, as all we were interested in was looking at girls' bums and things like that. But it was such a wonderful experience.

"Everybody can write or paint, but most people give up on the first attempt, not many persevere. The first attempt is always not very good, so you have to force yourself to get there; it's a very rewarding experience."

John Illsley is also unveiling the proof of the painting that was featured on the 2008 Dire Straits album Beautiful You, an oil painting depicting a guitar on an abstract blue and white background.

Talking about his art work, John Illsley told SUR in English: "It's something I've been doing for many years now, but I started doing it in earnest in 1993 and 1994 when Dire Straits stopped performing. So really I've been painting ever since.

"But it took me eight or nine years to get a collection of work that I was happy with. So in a way it's all about finding your own voice and how to feel good about what you're doing."

This is Illsley's fifth show, following others in London, New York, Sydney and Paris.