The Lost World of Norman Cornish | Kings Place

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The Lost World of Norman Cornish

28 March - 22 August 2014

 

 

Men at Bar, Oil on paper, 83.8 x 94.2cm (NC673)
Price £8,800 + VAT
© University Gallery on behalf of Norman Cornish

 

Norman Stansfield Cornish was 65 when he wrote his autobiography. He called it ‘A Slice of Life’ and indeed it was just that although one could say that it was brought into being a little prematurely given that a further three decades of remarkable activity were to follow its publication.

He was born in 1919, one year after the end of the First World War and seven years before the General Strike. Major events, the Depression of the 1930s, World War II, pit disasters, the Nationalisation of the coalmines provided a mere backdrop to his life which was resolutely focused upon his art and his family.

At the age of fourteen he began work at the Dean and Chapter Colliery, known locally as ‘The Butcher’s Shop’ and in a poignant account of his first day at work he described his descent into the pit, “As we stooped down to enter the cage which held twenty men at a time, I was comforted by the fact that I was amidst experienced men quite used to the descent into the pit. The cage dropped very rapidly. About halfway down I felt that I was coming up over. We finally landed at the shaft bottom and I was relieved to find that it was well lit by electric lights. My mining career had begun. I had been dropped into a man-made world and I was to learn that the dangers of gas, stone falls, the darkness and the restricted space,   were all to shape these men into industrial gladiators.” 

At roughly the same time as he made his first descent into the pit, he discovered the Spennymoor Sketching Club which was holding its annual exhibition. Visiting it he was enthralled, “I thought that I was in wonderland,” he said. “I applied to join and was accepted as a member.” There was no formal tuition, members learnt from each other but if a mentor existed it was Bill Farrell, Warden of the Spennymoor Settlement who encouraged Cornish to paint “the life he knew”, which he did compulsively. The discipline of constantly recording experience in sketchbooks became second-nature to him resulting in thousands of vividly captured images which now form part of the Cornish Archive at Northumbria University and are included in this exhibition.

As Cornish’s role as a miner changed, moving from ‘putter’, pushing coal tubs, to ‘hewer’, his exhibitions career flourished. Three years before he left the mines to pursue a career as a professional artist he finally achieved recognition on the national stage. It had taken thirty years. In 1963, in the BBC’s ‘Monitor’ programme Melvyn Bragg presented the work of ‘Two Border Artists’, which included the prodigiously gifted Sheila Fell, from Aspatria, Cumbria. Thereafter, his career advanced steadily with numerous awards and honours, although one suspects that becoming revered as a symbol of the North-East meant more to him.

Reflecting on his work, he wrote “I made drawings of pub workers in days past because I was fascinated by the men standing at the bar drinking and talking, or sitting playing dominoes. I was attracted by the wonderful shapes that they make in their varied attitudes. I also realised that life would change in some ways. The local collieries have gone, together with the pit road. Many of the old streets, chapels and pubs are no more. A large number of the ordinary but fascinating people who frequent these places are gone. However, in my memory, and I hope in my drawings, they live on. I simply close my eyes and they all spring to life.” 

 

SALES:

A number of works in the exhibition are available for sale.
A picture price list is available to download by clicking here.
For further information, please contact the University Gallery on
0191 227 4424 or by email at university.gallery@northumbria.ac.uk.

 

LIMITED EDITION PRINTS:

A range of signed, limited edition Norman Cornish giclée and lithographic prints are available to order.
Full details are available by emailing university.gallery@northumbria.ac.uk or by clicking here.

  

PUBLICATION:

The Lost World of Norman Cornish
Paperback 289 x 260mm
192 Pages. 165 full colour and 90 b/w illustrations
Edited by Mara-Helen Wood, with an essay by William Varley
ISBN 0-947940-41-3   
Price £26.00, including P&P
Please call 0191 227 4424 to place an order
  

Gallery Level open daily from 9am - 8pm during exhibtions

Admission Free

 

The Gallery Level and the Enclosed Gallery are often used for private event bookings which might limit access. Access to the Gallery Level exhibition will be restricted on the following dates:

 

July
Friday 11 July - Closed for private event
Wednesday 16 July - Closed from 5pm