June 4, 2019
Deep within the annals of South West Durham Training rests an image.
A black and white freezeframe of an era past, it shows students, wearing an assortment of dark boiler suits, alongside instructors Jack Mitchell and David Allison.
It’s the mid-1970s and the group are arranged, in crescent formation, under a canopy adorning the skill provider’s name.
Among them is Jim Moir, his arms folded, his hair long, his face carrying a look of indifference.
For many of his contemporaries, this was the first stage of a journey into careers across the manufacturing and engineering sectors.
For mechanical engineering student Jim, however, it was a crossroads.
South West Durham Training has a glittering alumni, with many of its former students working around the globe.
Closer to home, the organisation can list a number of senior company bosses who cut their teeth in its surrounds.
They include Caraline Robinson, managing director of Newton Aycliffe lawnmower maker Husqvarna, and Mike Matthews, the former managing director of Teesside car parts maker Nifco UK and North East England Chamber of Commerce president.
Bishop Auckland-born Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate is another to have passed through its doors.
Jim, though, wasn’t destined to be like them. Instead, he pursued his passion for art.
He had gone down the route of technical training after his father, who worked at The Northern Echo newspaper, initially dissuaded him from art.
However, rather than looking back on the time with regret, Jim, who grew up in Darlington, says it was actually a positive and guiding experience.
“I wanted to go to art school, but I ended up doing mechanical engineering,” says Jim, who reveals he’s regularly up before sunrise bringing a nocturnal idea to life on canvas or paper.
“I was working in something I didn’t want to do, but, in a way, it was good because it was another experience in life.
“Afterwards, my Dad said that he’d wished he had let me go to art school at the time.
“My passion for art goes back as long as I can remember, from the first time I made a mark on paper.
“I can draw quite meticulously, but sometimes I choose not to,” he adds with a smile.
“I learned at art school, but I’ve never stopped learning to this day.
“It’s all about looking at how to do things in a different way.”
He may be known for his antics as the gregarious Vic Reeves on programmes such as the riotous BBC panel show Shooting Stars, but go beyond his stage nom de plume and Moir the man – and his art – really comes to the fore.
This was no better highlighted in May when Jim showcased a collection of his work, A Mountain of Turkish Delight, at Newcastle’s Biscuit Factory, proving that, just like his comedic alias, he too can draw a crowd – in more ways than one.
Named after an idea for a piece of work Jim had stored on his mobile phone, it was his first-ever art exhibition in Newcastle, and the North East, and featured more than 70 original drawings and paintings.
Those who attended were given a peephole into a mind of whirring effervescence and eccentricity that seamlessly juxtaposes the bizarre with the ordinary.
Jim – full name James Roderick Moir – is quick to point out though that his work doesn’t conform to any particular style.
What it does demonstrate, however, is a clear love of art and its techniques, which was initially crafted when Jim studied at Sir Cass College, in Whitechapel, in the mid-1980s.
This is reflected as he talks about the importance of shadow and light, highlighting a chair in an image of an overtly muscle-bound Sylvester Stallone atop a horse to develop his point.
However, that isn’t to say his work doesn’t mirror his comedy tendencies.
The two, after all, go hand-in-hand, for it was art that provided Jim with his real first sojourn into slapstick.
After moving from Sir Cass College to New Cross, Jim started a performance art piece at The Goldsmiths Tavern, called Vic Reeves Big Night Out, which was the kernel from where his career in comedy and entertainment grew.
Looking at his artwork, his penchant for the surreal screams out.
In one sketch at his exhibition, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un stood side-by-side, each with one arm longer than the other from shaking hands and because, says Jim, “I saw them on TV, and they looked like they liked each other.”
Elsewhere, David Bowie, as alter ego Ziggy Stardust, was pencilled performing on stage. An old touring caravan, “where he goes for his weekend retreat,” sat in the background.
Another, carrying the words, ‘the day Mick Jagger was involved in an elephant molestation’, needed no further explanation.
For Jim, it was special to bring these creations, and a hoard of others, to his native North East.
“I’ve done a lot of shows in London, but it was fantastic to be in Newcastle because it’s kind of where it all started,” he reflects.
“You can get a little laissez-faire about things.
“If I could go back to when I was 15 or 16, when I was sitting in my bedroom doing my drawings and paintings, and think I would be doing a show here in the North East, it’s fantastic.”