KENTMERE House Gallery always intended to devote much of this year’s exhibition programme to Jack Hellewell, as 2020 would have been his centenary year.
Ann Petherick’s gallery, in Scarcroft Hill, York, is closed under the Coronavirus lockdown, but the website is being updated regularly, especially his section.
“You may not be able to go to the Yorkshire Dales over the Easter break, but you can still enjoy Jack Hellewell’s views of Yorkshire and elsewhere online until such time as you can see the real thing,” says Ann.
“There will be a rolling exhibition of Jack’s work from the date of the gallery re-opening, 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.
Did you know?
WORKS by Jack Hellewell are in the collections of British Rail; National Power Company; Sheffield Museums; Mercer Gallery, Harrogate; Rochdale Art Gallery; Rutherston Art Loan Scheme, Manchester City Art Gallery; Barclays Asset Management, Leeds & Birmingham, and Provident Financial, Bradford.