NORMAN CORNISH: THE PORTRAITS
Sunday 30 June to 1 September
First ever exhibition of Norman Cornish’s portraits to go on display at the Gala Gallery in Durham’s Gala Theatre from 30 June 2019.
“ I paint human beings. I paint their hopes and their shapes and their attitudes and the feelings I have when I look at them. The images come from the people. They create them. I am just the medium.'' Norman Cornish MBE 1919-2014
Portraiture was an important part of Norman Cornish’s artistic practice. This exhibition at the Gala Gallery in Durham’s Gala Theatre features self-portraits from throughout his career showing his stylistic development as well as insights into the man himself alongside informal images of his family and more formally commissioned portraits and sketches of local characters.
This exhibition is the first time that a selection of Norman Cornish’s portraits have been brought together to form a distinct collection. Inspired by the ‘unguarded moments’ of the people around him, it is evident that from a young age Cornish not only had the skill and technicality required of formal and traditional portraiture but also saw the value in painting everyday people going about their normal lives.
Widely recognised as one of the most talented and distinguished artists of the 20th Century, his story has humble beginnings. Aged 14, he was obliged to start life as a miner at a local colliery – a career spanning four decades. Around that time, his passion for art found fulfilment and a means to progress when he joined the Sketching Club at the inspirational Spennymoor Settlement.
The Settlement, which opened in 1931 with funds from the Pilgrim Trust, became known as the Pitman’s Academy and brought a glimmer of hope during the depression years to an impoverished community, broadening horizons and cultivating creativity.
With its annual exhibitions gaining importance in the art world, the Warden, Bill Farrell, singled out Norman in his Annual Settlement Report of 1936/37:
One young man particularly has shown a distinct talent for portraiture in oils. Norman Cornish has painted portraits of his father, mother and of his grandmother – a fine old Durham woman with a characterful face which, if painted by Rembrandt or Frans Hals, would tell the story of the Durham Miners’ wives for all the world to see.
Alongside attending the exhibition Durham County primary schools are taking part in a workshop with poet Tony Gadd and illustrator Bethan Laker. Painting pictures with words they will work with Tony to create words and poetry which reflects Norman Cornish’s portraits supporting the pupils’ confidence in descriptive observation and writing and showing them the skills to use simple forms of poetry creatively and in a fun and engaging way.
The series of exhibitions and activities celebrating 100 years since the birth of Norman Cornish is now well underway across County Durham and further afield.
Exhibitions in Spennymoor’s Bob Abley Gallery and Bishop Auckland’s Mining Art Gallery show different aspects of Cornish’s work. The exhibition at the Bob Abley Art Gallery in Spennymoor tells the fascinating story of his mural depicting the Durham Miners’ Gala, painted by the artist in 1963, charting the sometimes challenging journey from the commission of the nine-metre mural by Durham County Council to its installation at Durham’s County Hall, Aykley Heads where it currently remains.
In Bishop Auckland, the Mining Art Gallery, part of The Auckland Project brings a different perspective to the celebrations with a special exhibition demonstrating Norman Cornish’s deeply ingrained identity within the community, felt still by those whose history it mirrors. Norman Cornish – A Slice of Life is co-curated by residents of Norman’s home-town of Spennymoor, alongside his children John and Ann, all guided by the gallery’s curator Angela Thomas of The Auckland Project.
In Spennymoor, where Cornish was born and lived his whole life, the Spennymoor Town Council’s superbly refurbished John Kitson Archway within the Spennymoor Town Hall showcases a rich and diverse selection of the artist’s work uniquely displayed on backlit glass panels, forming a stunning celebration of his work.
For those visiting the artist’s home town of Spennymoor, a visit would not be complete without taking in The Norman Cornish Trail which sets his work in their actual locations – taking people back to a time when coal was once the life-blood of industry and an important part of community life. Visitors can walk in Cornish’s footsteps guided by a free trail guide or app offering insights into the 10 key locations which were the source of his inspiration.
Later in 2019, three further exhibitions will open at The Greenfield Gallery in Newton Aycliffe (Man of Destiny – success over adversity, Oct – Dec); Durham University’s Palace Green Library (The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks, Nov – Feb); and Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle (A Major Retrospective, Nov – Feb).
The recreation of Norman Cornish’s former colliery home, as part of the Remaking Beamish Project, took a significant step forward on Saturday 4th May. John Cornish, accompanied by family members, took part in a momentous occasion at the museum. The first foundation stones for the house were laid, marking the next phase of its development which is expected to conclude the centenary events around the region as part of Remaking Beamish Project 1950s’ town.
The Norman Cornish Centenary Exhibition programme is supported by Arts Council England National Lottery Fund.