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Art Editorial

olleypiss.jpg Hearts and mines

Bob Olley paints what he knows and what he loves, which is the mining community and tight-knit north-east folk. He’s celebrating his 80th birthday with a wide-ranging exhibition at the Mining Art Gallery.

When ‘The Westoe Netty’, arguably Bob Olley’s most famous work, was first shown it sparked controversy. Painted in 1972 in depicts a public toilet covered in graffiti. Such was the furore the exhibition it was shown at was nearly closed down (to be fair, you can see why people would be shocked and disgusted by words like “knickers” scratched onto a wall…). But the work is typical of Olley, in which humour rubs shoulders with quirky reality, and it helps us see ourselves through his eyes. He was a miner and, naturally, the reality of that world is strongly reflected in his paintings and drawings. From the warm glow of a miner’s lamp, to the camaraderie of men working in dangerous and inhospitable conditions, to the miners’ strike, Olley captures this most singular of industries with a gimlet eye. He says: “I have always expressed myself best through art. When I first went down the mines I found it hard to articulate how I felt about the blinding dark, the noise and the constant movement – the only way to describe my life underground was to draw it.” The exhibition also features iconic scenes and figures from the region, and includes some of his earliest drawings from the 1960s. And art lovers can meet Olley in person at a special event on 23 April (6.30pm-8pm, £10 inc. glass of wine) where he will discuss the exhibition. This will be followed by a private tour. More on this from the website, below.

Backshift: Bob Olley at 80, until 10 May, Mining Art Gallery, Bishop Auckland Market Place, Wed-Sun, 10am-4pm, £5 (conc. £4, under 16s £1). aucklandproject.org/venues/mining-art-gallery