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Unseen Norman Cornish work exhibited in Newcastle
DRAWINGS hastily penned on scraps of paper, an impromptu canvas ripped from the side of a cardboard box and overflowing sketchpads are among the treasures unearthed for an art exhibition.
Northumbria University has put together a collection of previously unseen work by one of the region’s best loved artists, Norman Cornish, from Spennymoor, County Durham.
The Lost World of Norman Cornish at the university gallery, in Newcastle, features work spanning the 93-year-old’s long artistic career which the university is currently archiving.
Exhibitions assistant, Andrew Etherington, said: “He was obsessive about his work, would use anything that came to hand because he was all about capturing that one moment as it happened and using any canvas that came to hand was an extension of that.
“There are lots of pictures on the back of old mining reports, dental cards and often on magazines or newspapers, which help us date them.
“There are many pictures of his children and they say the reason they aren’t smiling in many is because he would just say ‘stop, hold that pose’ then they’d have to stand still for an hour while he drew them.
“The exhibition shows how experimental he has been and how his work has developed over time.”
Mr Cornish, a miner for 33 years, is the last surviving artist of the famous Pitman’s Academy at The Spennymoor Settlement, which provided social and educational opportunities for mining families.
His most beloved subjects are wife, Sarah, and their children, John and Ann, going about everyday life such as peeling potatoes and reading a book.
A scene close to his heart shows a railway crossing at Trimdon Grange, which he recalls staring out at from a bus which had to stop to let a train pass en route to courting his future bride.
Typical subjects include street scenes from Spennymoor and Bishop Auckland, men down the pub and colliery life.
And a recurring image is that of imposing telegraph poles lining the road to the pit which Mr Cornish has compared to Calvary, in two exhibited pictures he used the poles to depict crucifixion.
Hanging beside the gallery staircase is his last large scale painting, a snowy scene of Mount Pleasant, in Low Spennymoor, which he completed in 2011.
Mr Etherington said: “It is one of his favourite ones because there is a sense it captures everything in the life of a miner- the church where he was christened, the mine in the background, shops, family life and then back to church at the end of life.
“It is also interesting because it is less worked and finished than others so you can see up close how he works and constructs pictures.”
The exhibition runs until January 31 and is accompanied by an education programme and the launch of a picture book edited by his agent, gallery director Mara-Helen Wood.
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