Published on December 6, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour


Understanding life through beer

Two major art shows in the region have links with the world of pubs, writes Alastair Gilmour

An exhibition at the new Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, goes under the title of Understanding Life Through Art. If we couple that with Pioneers Of Pop at the newly refurbished Hatton Gallery at Newcastle University, we could place them under an umbrella called Understanding Life Through Beer.

The Mining Art Gallery explores the development of underground workers’ self-expression, highlighting their unique place within British art history. The gallery reveals how miners from the Great Northern Coalfield responded to their experiences through art, from the conditions they endured underground to the pit communities they returned home to – and to the people they encountered in pubs.

Artists include Tom McGuinness, Ted Holloway, Tom Lamb and Bob Olley. They evoke the claustrophobia and fear of life underground, while works by Norman Cornish, Jimmy Floyd and David Venables reveal the spirit and energy of the community.

Norman Cornish is undoubtedly the most celebrated mining artist and one of the most sought-after contemporary painters in the country. For more than 50 years his images of miners’ working lives and his observation of social activities have intrigued audiences.

Cornish, who died in 2015 aged 94, was the last surviving member of the ‘pitman’s academy’ at the Spennymoor Settlement where art, music and literature were discussed, disseminated and digested. A former miner, he was known for his depictions of life around Spennymoor, particularly pub and club life, including sketches of bar-rooms and drinkers with all the accoutrements of North East life – darts, dominoes, pints and whippets.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, Pioneers of Pop includes some 100 works by some of the leading British artists associated with both Pop and abstract art. They include Eduardo Paolozzi, David Hockney, Richard Smith, Ian Stephenson, RB Kitaj, Joe Tilson and Richard Hamilton, who, during his time teaching at Newcastle University (1953-1956) firmly positioned Newcastle as the birthplace of Pop Art, particularly with his landmark collage Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing.

In 1957, five years before Andy Warhol’s much-celebrated forays into the genre with his iconic Campbell’s soup can and Marilyn Monroe portraits, Hamilton said: “Pop Art is popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and big business”. Pioneers of Pop aims to capture the excitement, experimentation and opportunity of that time through the prism of Newcastle and its art school.

Julie Milne, chief curator at Hatton Gallery, said: “Many people think Pop Art started in the USA with Andy Warhol, but in reality, a lot of the thinking and work behind it was happening in the UK, and not just in London, but also Newcastle. With the important redevelopment of the Hatton Gallery and Richard Hamilton’s strong association with the gallery, Pioneers of Pop presents the opportunity to explore Newcastle’s role in the origin of this pivotal art movement.”

Relaxing after class in Newcastle’s pubs was seen as part of the creative process and there’s even a chapter in the exhibition catalogue called a Pint of Exhibition.

Inspiration is a two-way street – as a new set of beers from the Edinburgh Beer Factory will testify. This time it comes from Leith-born Eduardo Paolozzi, one of the first developers of Pop Art and visiting lecturer at Newcastle University, who believed in transforming the mass-produced, trashy and throwaway into something special, calling it “the sublime in the everyday”.

In 1952, Paolozzi delivered his BUNK! Lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London presenting “undervalued, underrated and misunderstood” materials from popular culture such as collages, blurring the lines between high and low art forever.

Edinburgh Beer factory’s new beers are Edinburgh Brown (6.0% abv), Smoky Wheat (5.0% abv) and Cherry Saison (6.5% abv) which celebrate the BUNK! sublime tradition. Edinburgh Brown has upped the American version of a traditional English Brown Ale. It’s a silky textured, malt-rich, hop-fresh beer which has already been voted the world’s best American Brown Ale at the World Beer Awards.

Smoky Wheat references the late David Bowie and his Starman lyric “hazy cosmic jive”. German banana notes are given a smouldering, smoky subtext, dancing bubbles and superb head.

Cherry Saison glams up the traditional Belgian farmhouse style with juicy Montmorency cherries for a hint of sweet and sour and a real tastebud tingler.

*Pioneers of Pop is at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University, until January 20, 2018. The Mining Art Gallery is part of a major regeneration of Bishop Auckland by The Auckland Project, centred around the restored Auckland Castle, once home to the Prince Bishops of Durham, which includes developing Auckland Tower, a visitor destination of international significance, Spanish Art Gallery, Deer Park, Walled Garden and Faith Museum.

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Alastair Gilmour

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