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Mundesley artist makes his mark on the world of art - aged 80

PUBLISHED: 08:33 27 February 2016 | UPDATED: 08:33 27 February 2016

Artist John Midgley in his home studio at Mundesley. Picture: KAREN BETHELL

Artist John Midgley in his home studio at Mundesley. Picture: KAREN BETHELL

Archant

Age truly is no barrier to success, according to octogenarian artist John Midgley, who, with no fewer than eight exhibitions in the pipeline, is enjoying the busiest year of his career.

Yorkshire-born John, who celebrates his 81st birthday this year, trained at the Harrogate School of Art and went on to become an arts advisor for the London boroughs of Haringey and Brent.

A lifelong political activist, he was dismissed from his next job as a tutor at Camden Arts Institute after supporting staff in a management dispute.

“I suppose I made a series of disastrous career moves, which were beneficial in a way, as it meant I had time to do my own work,” he said.

In 1970, John helped set up Chippenham House, a collective aimed at promoting the work of upcoming artists.

Based in a former swimwear factory in Brent, North London, the 24-strong group worked together on a number of projects.

These included producing a series of ‘agitprop’ posters with political messages and creating a series of banners for print workers marching in protest at the Industrial Relations Act of 1971.

“I think my proudest moment was when the posters were on the front page of just about every newspaper that carried news of the demonstrations,” he said.

John also made pen and ink banners spelling out the initials of the Transport and General Workers Union, as well as working on other politically-themed projects.

After being asked to paint a silk banner for print workers, he began to receive a stream of similar commissions and, more than 40 years ago, set up a banner-painting company.

He went on to create more than 300 banners for National Union of Mineworkers lodges from all over the country, with his work still seen every year at the annual Durham Miners’ Gala, which regularly attracts crowds of up to 100,000.

After moving to Aylsham in 1981, John married long-term partner Maggie – who is a former head of drama at Sheringham High School - and, keen to focus on his own, more abstract work, he sold his company.

His distinctive, atmospheric paintings of local ‘off the beaten track’ landscapes soon drew an enthusiastic following, and John went on to show his work at galleries all over the county, as well as in Suffolk and London.

He exhibited at the prestigious annual Salthouse exhibition for five consecutive years, also exhibiting as a member of the ‘elite’ Norwich 20 Group.

However, last year, his paintings, which now fetch up to £2,000, became more sought-after than ever, with three exhibitions achieving more than 60pc sales.

“It felt pretty good – exhilarating,” he said. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I worry about ego and success and, when someone buys your work and values it, then it is lovely.”

He says that, with age, comes an increased confidence, as well as a greater willingness to take the “hardest approach”.

“Being 80, I feel more like experimenting, I suppose it’s the idea of using up your remaining time in the best possible way,” he explained.

“I think that time has become more valuable; partly it is a desire to make your mark in the world, but also it is about wanting to give yourself the best possible life you can.”

Plans this year include an Easter show at Burnham Overy Staithe and a Norwich 20 Group exhibition at the Forum in July, as well as exhibitions at Corpusty, Cley, Cromer, and Overstrand, where his paintings will go on show alongside textiles by wife Maggie.

John, who now lives at Mundesley, has also been invited to stage a solo show at the Theatre Royal, Norwich, in 2017 and is planning a retrospective exhibition, featuring work dating from the 1970s to the present day.

He puts his reinvigorated success down to being in a “happy, supportive relationship” and a strong focus on staying healthy.

“I feel as if I am doing my best work ever,” he explained. “But I am going to two exercise classes a week just so that I can be fit enough to get everything done.”

To see more of John Midgley’s work, visit www.johnmidgley.co.uk


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