Pitmen Painters

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The Ashington Group 1934-1984
P A P E R B A C K  B O O K

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Pitmen Painters Book

    Paperback: 176 pages
    Publisher: Ashington Group Trustees (18 Nov 2008)
    Language: English
    Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 18.8 x 1.4 cm

    Barcode: 0955413826

    I cannot think of a more extraordinary collection of artists than The Ashington Group. What they did, what they achieved, the legacy they left ... all are a blueprint for what the power of art can do for a community. Sadly, that blueprint remains untouched.



I must confess to knowing little about the Pitmen Painters before seeing Robson Green's documentary in the excellent ITV Perspectives series (as a sidenote this has been a brilliant series, what with this and the Lowry docu it has been far more rewarding than the overrated South Bank series - well at least in its last few years). I did know of them but it was a feint memory in the back of my mind - if you asked me anything about them I would say that they were miners who painted - and that would be it. Yes, I'd heard about the play but never quite got into it as I was worried at how the playwright would portray these incredible men for a certain type of audience. Though the play was based on this book I just felt that the National Theatre was the last place on earth the ghosts of Oliver Kilbourn et al would frequent. Having not seen the play I don't know whether I'm right or wrong. Maybe I'm just being an idiot.

After seeing it and then reading this book I have become hooked on this remarkable group of men and stand in wonder at how they could even have had the energy to put brush to canvas after the unimaginably arduous days in the pits, let alone the magically wistful beauty of the work.

They proved that art is for everyone. Figurative art isn't about who can paint the best arm, the best leg, the best of the best; it's about emotions, emotions without words, emotions beyond the prison of the written word ... it's about how it makes you feel, a moment, a time, a place ... something that gets you in the heart well before the head even begins to know anthing is there. We can all do it: we don't need anyone else telling us whether it is right or wrong because there is no right or wrong ... we follow our own creative path and what influences we pick up are ours alone. That is the crucial thing: namely: we do follow a creative path and never, ever ignore it.

So many problems in our society stem from the fact that every turn, at every stage of our lives, our creativity is vanquished by others, by rejection, by ignorance or, worst, by apathy. Our creativety withers, dies and we become little more than ghosts in the shell. There is more to life than this and art is it.

The Pitmen Painters were great artists in ordinary lives. They had an intelligience few of us can claim because they recognised that by painting they were making a difference to themselves. They painted because they wanted to paint. Despite everything or maybe because of everything. Simple really.

Recommended in a heartbeat.

~ © Paul Page, 2011



If you see anything written by William Feaver then you know the subject matter is second to none. Honestly, he is the best writer on art in the UK. I mean, have you seen the work he has done on Frank Auerbach? Astonishing, as he does bring the reader with him in discovering a particular artist rather than excluding him/her. Here he does the same, no doubt helped by the fact that he knew members of the Group in the 1970s when it was coming towards its end. There is 'personal' here and this intimacy is found page upon page.

The fame of the Ashington Group was at its height in the 1930s and then it waned until recently with the publication of this book and the subsequent popular play. I can't help wondering how such a close group who went down the mines and painted in the evenings together for so many years felt as they saw the members passing away over the years and the Group growing less and less. For those that remained, what must have it been like. I wonder, a melancholic wonder. 50 years of a group of friends now gone with the wind.

~ © Paul Page, 2011


    The Group largely made up of coal miners (or pitmen as they are known), first came together in 1934 through the Workers Education Association to study 'something different' - art appreciation. In an effort to understand what it was all about, their tutor Robert Lyon encouraged them to learn by doing it themselves

What they produced was fascinating and if a picture paints a thousand words, these pitmen's paintings speak more eloquently than any photograph. They captured every aspect of life in and around their mining community, above and below ground, from the scenes around the kitchen table and in the allotment to the dangerous and dirty world of the coal face.

Members included: Oliver Kilbourn, Fred Laidler, George Blessed (uncle of Brian Blessed), Len Robinson, Jimmy Floyd, and George Brownrigg.

Source: Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives

Only at Woodhorn you can see the stunning Ashington Group Collection of work. This unique collection of more than 80 paintings was compiled by the original members of The Group themselves over many years. They felt the paintings represented the very best of their work. Via amazon.co.uk the Ashington Group sell this book and the money they raise is used for conservation of the collection. Click here to go directly to their amazon page to find out more

Pitmen Painters

BUY: amazon.co.uk (direct link to book)

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