KENTMERE House Gallery, in Scarcroft Hill, York, is re-opening from this week but by appointment only until further notice.
Ann Petherick would normally welcome visitors on Thursday evenings and the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, as well as by arrangement, but in these prevailing Covid-19 times, only the latter will apply for now…but even that is a welcome step forward in loosened lockdown.
To make a viewing appointment, contact Ann on 01904 656507 or 07801 810825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On show is A Life In Colour, Work from the Studio of Jack Hellewell, 1920-2000, including unframed pieces never seen before.
Ann always intended to devote much of this year’s exhibition programme to Hellewell, as 2020 would have been his centenary year. “Since we had to close under the Coronavirus lockdown, we’ve been updating the website regularly, especially Jack’s section, featuring his views of Yorkshire and elsewhere,” she says.
“Now we’re re-opening, there’ll be a rolling exhibition of Jack’s work, including works on paper and on canvas, with prices ranging from £500 to £1,500.”
After his death in 2000, Kentmere House Gallery was appointed to manage Jack’s artistic estate on behalf of his family, since when exhibitions have been held in Ilkley, Leeds, Stoke-on-Trent, Bristol, London and Vienna. “There were several more planned in 2020, although some may now have to be deferred to 2021,” says Ann.
Ever since Ann saw Jack’s work in a gallery in Ilkley 25 years ago, he has been one of her gallery’s most loved and respected artists and work from his studio is on show there permanently.
“Jack lived for his painting, describing himself as ‘a fanatical painter’ and spending all day and every day painting, especially after his wife died,” says Ann. “Towards the end of his life, his daughter said the only way she knew he was really ill was when he stopped painting
“He loved it when he sold work but hated having to be involved with the selling and, as a result, most of the work we show will never have been seen before outside his studio.”
Jack’s attic flat overlooking Ilkley Moor was always neatly stacked with canvasses and work on paper. “Initially he would say ‘I haven’t done much’, and then the paintings would start to appear: astounding in their quality and consistency and always singing with colour,” says Ann.
“The gentlest, quietest and most modest of men, there were few who were privileged to know him, but he had a delightful sense of humour, which also appears in his paintings.”
Jack Hellewell was a Yorkshireman through and through. Born in Bradford in 1920, he trained as a painter at Bradford College of Art – where David Hockney studied too – from 1949 to 1952 and in later life lived in Menston and Ilkley.
He saw war service in Egypt, North Africa and Italy and he then worked as a graphic designer. His travels with his family took him to Australia, Austria, New Zealand, the South Seas and, frequently, to Scotland.
In 1976, he gave up his design work to become a full-time painter, returning to West Yorkshire to do so.
“All his work was executed entirely from memory – he always refused to sketch on site, believing that ‘it ties you down’ – and everything was derived from personal experiences,” says Ann.
“Jack’s travels and encounters had a dramatic impact on his painting and he had an amazing ability to retain the essence of a place, so that years – or even decades later – he could produce a painting from it.”
Much of his work used the visual experience of intense light in warmer climates, as compared with the more subtle light he found in Britain.
“Jack always worked in acrylic, enjoying the contrasts it offers between strong and subtle colours, and the feeling of movement, which is such a feature of his work,” says Ann. “He had the ability both to use the medium neat on canvas or diluted on paper, the latter giving the effect of the most delicate watercolour.”
Jack exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition on several occasions in the 1990s; his work was featured on the Tyne Tees Television arts programme North-East Line and he has an entry in the definitive publication Artists In Britain Since 1945.
“All this leads me to wonder how many other such artists there are: producing superbly rich and inspired work, yet largely unknown to the public and even more so to the art world, and never receiving a penny of public funding, nor any public recognition,” says Ann, who continues to ensure that all’s well that’s Hellewell by promoting his art assiduously in his centenary year.
Meanwhile, in an effort to keep spirits up during lockdown – not least her own – Ann has been Tweeting a painting from her extensive stock every day, under the heading of Art For The Day at @Kentmere_H_Gall.
“I try to link it to something relevant – the weather, or an event happening that day, for example – and I enjoy scrolling through my stock every morning, sometimes finding paintings I’d forgotten I had,” she says.
“I also try to create a contrast from one day to the next, such as the subtlety of Keith Roper’s pastels of the Fens, then the vibrancy of Jonathan Hooper’s oils of Leeds street scenes. It makes a lovely collection to look back on.
“It seems that others agree as many have been re-Tweeted in an attempt to cheer up someone’s day.”
Farther afield, Ann is delighted that, on the eve of its 60th anniversary, the trail-blazing Federation of British Artists has set up a new art fair at the Mall Galleries, London.
Inevitably, the 2020 Figurative Art Fair is online, showing contemporary figurative art by elected members of the country’s leading national art societies: The Pastel Society; Royal Society of British Artists; Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours; Royal Society of Portrait Painters; New English Art Club; Royal Society of Marine Artists; Society of Wildlife Artists and Royal Institute of Oil Painters.
“Kentmere House Gallery shows work by members of all these societies,” says Ann. “This is a very exciting development as, in recent years, art fairs have come to be associated mainly with conceptual work, serving to alienate much of the potential market. However, there are strong signs of a change, with figurative painting enjoying a revival.
“At a time when artists and art institutions alike urgently need public support, this innovative venture will benefit artists across the country and give inspiration to all those who have become despondent at the appearance of their homes.
“It’s appropriate that the societies come together in this time of isolation to celebrate figurative art, contemporary artists, and the spirit of artistic collaboration.”