IAN Scott Massie revels in the “incomparable beauty” of the north in his uplifting exhibition of watercolours and screenprints at Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole, an apt location at the heart of the North York Moors National Park.
Running from Monday, May 17 to Sunday, July 11, the Masham artist’s Northern Soul show represents his personal journey of living in the north for the past 45 years since the call to leave the south.
Depicting “the character of the north”, the 50 paintings and prints portray northern views as diverse as Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland and Barnsley in South Yorkshire, and landmarks ranging from the monastic ruin of Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, to the Tees Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough, the longest-working bridge of this ilk in the world. The images reach right across the country from Liverpool to Newcastle.
Born in London in 1952 and raised in Langley, near Slough, from the age of six, Massie first headed north, to Durham University in 1973, to study to be a music teacher. Although he returned to Berkshire in 1982, five years later this folk musician and artist settled in Masham, Lower Wensleydale, with his artist wife, Josie Beszant.
He began working in watercolours “to paint quickly” when his children were small, citing JMW Turner as an influence.
“The depth of colour, the freedom of the expression and the speed at which a picture could come together captivated me,” he says.
The north, he posits, is “the truth of England, where all things are seen clearly”. “Both the pictures for Northern Souland the accompanying book of the same title take a very long view of the north, reaching back into my personal history and the history of the region,” he says.
“The exhibition also refers to my time working as a music researcher for Beamish Museum (which I loved), from which experience grew an interest in the industrial, social and folk culture of the north, which Ryedale Folk Museum reflects so beautifully.”
Jennifer Smith, director of Ryedale Folk Museum, says: “I’m delighted that we will open Ian’s exhibition on the same day as Ryedale Folk Museum will reopen, following a six-month period of closure.
“Northern Soul is a stunning and atmospheric journey across northern England. Ian captures the beauty, wildness and culture of The North, transporting the viewer to the places featured in his magical paintings and prints.
“The fact that we can share these works online, as well as in the art gallery, means that even if people can’t or don’t want to travel, they can feel nostalgic about their favourite northern places and maybe discover some new ones too.”
Massie’s Northern Soul project has undergone a long journey to this point, he says in his latest blog. “In 2016, I had the idea of creating an exhibition about my life in the North of England. The idea grew into a series of paintings and prints and then into a book. I found that delving into my past, trying to see how I first saw the places I discovered in the north, was an amazing source of inspiration.”
The exhibition’s grand tour of the north began in 2019 at Cannon Hall near Barnsley, followed by Masham Gallery, and should have come to Ryedale Folk Museum in 2020 until the pandemic put paid to that plan…until now.
Massie’s first northern encounter had left him “deeply unhappy” in Durham, and yet: “Little did I know that the north would make me. I would grow up there, discover talents for teaching and making art that I never suspected, discover places and music and stories that I would love for the rest of my life, and find happiness,” his blog recalls.
“Along the way, one question would occasionally surface: What makes the north the north? It isn’t simply that old cliche: a hard-working alternative to a soft and lazy south, and yet it’s a hard question to answer.
“It is an alternative of sorts – an alternative to the dreamy chocolate-box portrayal of England that exists only in the imagination. Perhaps, if we’re honest, its the truth of England, where all things are seen clearly: the incomparable beauty of the landscape; the harsh ugliness left by industry; the great wealth of the aristocracy; the miserable housing of the poor; the civic pride of the mill towns and a people as likely to be mobilised by political oratory as by a comedian with a ukulele.”
Massie continues: “The north is a place made up of a multitude of races, each with their own deep pool of stories which combine to make a shared way of life. Mining, the Potato Famine, the textile industry, persecution, war and politics all brought different people to the north. The list goes on.
“So I’ve approached the Northern Soul as though it were a jigsaw puzzle: examining the pieces I’ve come across over the years for what they can tell me. I’ve got some bits of the edge and some promising parts of the middle, but I’d be lying if I said I was close to completing it.
“There are parts of the north I know only slightly and others I know like the back of my hand, and I’ll plead guilty now to favouring some places over others because that’s just the way it is.”
The accompanying Northern Soul book is available both from the publishers, Masham Gallery, at mashamgallery.co.uk/store/p379/Northern_Soul.html, and from the Ryedale Folk Museum shop and online at ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk (for £26 plus postage and packaging if bought from the museum website).
“This book is at once the log of a long, as yet unfinished, journey and a love letter to the North of England. It’s about the places I’ve known and painted, and what part they play in this complex, careworn, mountainous, multi-faceted, wave-tossed, warm-welcoming, wind-blown, freezing, friendly, tough-spirited, tender-hearted, rusty, rebellious, ruinous, green, golden, chilled-out, challenging, deep-rooted, dale-scattered, subtle, smoky, special land,” concludes Massie.
Ian Scott Massie: Northern Soul, Ryedale Folk Museum art gallery, May 17 to July 11 2021; open daily from 10am to 5pm. Entry to the gallery is free.
The exhibition also can be viewed on the Ryedale Folk Museum website during the same period at: ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk/art-gallery/
Did you know?
IAN Scott Massie continues a parallel career as a musician, teaching guitar and coaching rock bands at Queen Mary’s School, Baldersby Park, near Thirsk, and performing on stage occasionally. He has been a member of several bands over the years.
He collects and plays unusual musical instruments from around the world and is a founder and events coordinator of the Masham Arts Festival and a founder of the ArtisOn arts and crafts teaching studios at High Burton House, Masham.
In 2010, he was a semi-finalist on BBC1’s Mastermind, answering questions on artist Paul Nash, one of his greatest influences.