A unique exhibition of sketches by one the 20th century’s most celebrated “working class” artists, Norman Cornish, goes on show at a Cumbrian gallery next week.
The exhibition, at Castlegate House Gallery in Cockermouth, gathers together 32 works on paper, from the 1960s through to the 1980s.
Works span Flo-master pen drawings, pastels, watercolours and charcoals and cover the full spectrum of working class life in and around Spennymoor, County Durham.
The drawings first featured as part of the 2017 book Norman Cornish: Behind the Scenes. They provide, said gallery owner Steve Swallow, an incredible social history of decades of enormous change in the mining communities, and a vital understanding of Cornish’s artistic process.
Steve explains: “While Norman’s 269 sketchbooks will never be sold or divided, a notable body of works on paper exists outside of the sketchbooks; works produced by Norman as pieces in their own right or aide-memoirs for further thought and reference.”
Interspersed within the exhibition catalogue and on the gallery walls are a number of photographs of people and places taken by Cornish on the 35mm camera that also accompanied him, his sketchbooks and his pens as he captured scenes, shapes and moments that would be expanded upon on later.
“For us, the very nature of that immediacy, that desire to record, to not let that moment and opportunity pass, is compelling,” said Steve.
“There’s an authenticity about it, it’s no pastiche; this is not a man in the 21st century creating images of a life he’s not lived, this is a man at the very heart of a working class society recording the everyday, an everyday that he lived and recorded. We should be grateful that he did.”
Castlegate House Gallery has been working with Cornish’s family, represented the Norman Cornish estate for several years, following the artist’s death aged 94 in 2014.
The exhibition, called Norman Cornish: Behind the Scenes revealed, is the third exhibition of Cornish’s work at the gallery, which earlier this year was named by The Times as one of the top 10 commercial galleries in the country.
“We’re thrilled to have not only had access to all of these remaining works but to have been able to work with the Cornish family to build a focused exhibition of pieces from that fabulous 2017 publication,” added Steve.
Norman Cornish: Behind the Scenes revealed is at Castlegate House Gallery, Cockermouth, from September 18 to October 8.