Spenny for your thoughts
You often read about artists restricting their palette, the reduced colour scheme forcing them to consider other aspects of their work regarding composition and so on. Norman Cornish had something of the “less is more” aesthetic about him, but what he denied himself was the wider world. He lived in Spennymoor all of his life and the town was all he ever needed to produce a body of work that is now justifiably celebrated right across the UK and beyond. “Spennymoor has all that a painter needs to depict humanity,” he said. The other key word in that sentence is “humanity”. His paintings and drawings teem with it and for decades the streets, faces and landscapes that surrounded him were a constant source of inspiration.
The pit road he walked every day to work in the mines; children playing in the street; and men leaning companionably at the bar, all feature in his work. And whether in paint, pastel or his famous Flo-master pen, each scene is captured with the same compassion and warmth that characterised Cornish’s popular renderings of everyday life.
Now, to celebrate this legacy, residents of Spennymoor have joined Cornish’s children, John and Ann, in choosing some of their favourite works of his to be displayed in the mining gallery. Angela Thomas, curator at the gallery - which is part of the Auckland Project - also worked with Spennymoor Settlement Sketching Club, Rosa Street Primary School and Tudhoe and Spennymoor Local History Society to select works to be part of this commemorative exhibition. Their selections, whether bar settings, street scenes or familiar landscapes, reveal that Cornish’s carefully observed and lovingly created depictions of his hometown continue to resonate with the community living there today.
Rosa Street Primary School was a subject frequently sketched and painted by the artist. Exploring his artworks, year three students now studying in the same building, recognised streets and landmarks in the town, despite them being painted decades ago. One artwork they selected, Boys on Fence, is an evergreen scene of children playing, which young and old alike will find familiar.
Spennymoor Settlement Sketching Club was a central part of Cornish’s life and journey into art. He joined on his 15th birthday, just one year after starting work at Dean and Chapter Colliery, and it was at the club where he developed his unique style and first exhibited work in an annual exhibition. Norman remained loyal to his roots at the Sketching Club, continuing to exhibit there, while also showing work in galleries across the north of England, nationally and alongside artists such as Henry Moore and L.S. Lowry.
Angela Thomas: “Norman Cornish is one of the most enduringly popular mining artists in the country and to celebrate his centenary we wanted to focus on his home town of Spennymoor. This is where it all began and where he found new inspiration every day. It has been fantastic to work with a range of generations and people from all across the community to explore how Norman’s legacy lives on in the town and what his artwork means to them. Their input has resulted in a very special exhibition which puts a new and refreshing perspective on one of the country’s best-known artists.”
The temporary exhibition sits alongside the Mining Art Gallery’s permanent collection featuring further works by Norman Cornish, as well as other mining artists such as Tom McGuinness, Tom Lamb and Bob Olley.
The authorised biography of Norman Cornish has been reprinted to commemorate the artist’s centenary year and copies of ‘The Quintessential Cornish’, written by Robert McManners and Gillian Wales, will be on sale at the gallery.
Norman Cornish: A Slice of Life, runs throughout 2019, Mining Art Gallery, Bishop Auckland Market Place, DL14 7NP. Open daily 10am-4pm, £6 adults, £4 concession, £1 for under 16s. aucklandproject.org/events/mining-art-gallery. The exhibition is one of a number of Norman Cornish exhibitions planned across Country Durham in 2019. There will others at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle and the Bob Abley Art Gallery in Spennymoor. For more information visit normancornish.com