Thursday, February 06, 2020

ART: Norman Cornish, by JD

A version of this post appeared on Nourishing Obscurity in 2014

Norman Cornish was the last of ‘The Pitmen Painters.’

In order to understand how and why a humble coalminer with very little in the way of formal education would think of taking up painting after retiring from work, you should read the post I did about the Pitmen Painters. (The pictures have disappeared from that post also but it is the text which is important):

It was a very different world back then before the two world wars, a world which is completely ignored by historians. It doesn’t fit into their cosy politicised view of history.

Norman Cornish, 'Miners on the Pit Road', ca. 1964

Norman Cornish was born in 1919 in Spennymoor, Co. Durham. He began his working life as a miner at the age of fourteen in the nearby Dean and Chapter Colliery at Ferryhill. All his life Norman drew and painted, winning his first art prize at the age of four, and away from the pits he was a member of The Spennymoor Settlement project which provided educational support for working people.

In 1966, after 33 years of working underground, Norman left the pits. With the continuing decline of the industry, and partly because he was suffering from a worsening back complaint, he took the great risk of living by his painting.

That it was a successful move is irrefutable. He was the subject of several television films, had countless exhibitions, received and carried out numerous commissions, (notably the County Hall, Durham, mural of the Miners’ Gala) and was the last survivor of the Spennymoor Settlement project.

The BBC profile of Norman Cornish from 2011 is here-

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