Published on February 7, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour0
The story of the Pitmen Painters working on kitchen tables and in village halls between long shifts in the coal mines around Ashington in Northumberland is well documented. Less familiar, however, is the story of the artists who worked in Tyneside’s other major industries.
Shipyards like Swan Hunter, Palmers and Redhead, employed thousands of men and women from local communities, building vessels of all shapes and sizes and exporting goods around the globe.
Among the workforce was James Williamson Bell who began his career at Swan Hunter as a draughtsman in the 1960s. A talented artist from a young age, Bell was one of a number of painters, sculptors and printmakers who used their expressive art as a relief from the precision and attention to detail required on the yard.
By 1974, the need to paint took over, and Bell took the difficult decision to leave Swan Hunter. One of the privileged few able to make a living from his art, his great strength was a restless, eclectic application of techniques, creating a diverse body of work inspired by membership of the prestigious Society of Wildlife Artists and having spent months in China where he developed a fascination with Chinese brush painting.
Bell exhibited his work as far afield as Paris, New York, South Korea, Nairobi and China, but it was the River Tyne and industrial North East that provided the rich source of imagery that he constantly returned to. Towering cranes, characterful pubs and crowded bridges are all included in a new exhibition in Newcastle, alongside exquisitely detailed wildlife studies and energetic travel sketches. Taken together, these images create not just a portrait of working life on Tyneside, but of an artist’s overflowing creativity with a drive to capture the world around him.
James Williamson Bell 1938-2010. A Retrospective. February 2-March 10, 2018
Gallagher & Turner, 30 St Mary’s Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7PQ.