‘A big, lovely man’: art world mourns painter John Midgley

Artist John Midgley, who has died aged 84.

Artist John Midgley, who has died aged 84. - Credit: Archant

The Norfolk art community is mourning the loss of one of its most experienced and respected members, with the death of much-loved contemporary painter John Midgley at the age of 84.

A painting by John Midgley, inspired by watching art gallery visitors' response to artworks.

A painting by John Midgley, inspired by watching art gallery visitors' response to artworks. - Credit: Archant

Born in West Yorkshire to a butcher father and a teacher mother, Mr Midgley trained at Harrogate School of Art before moving to London, where he became an arts adviser for the boroughs of Haringey and Brent, later setting up a 24-studio artists’ complex in a former swimwear factory.

A lifelong political activist, he created ‘agitprop’ posters for print workers marching in protest against the Industrial Relations Act of 1971 and made pen and ink banners for the Transport and General Workers Union.

He was dismissed as a tutor at Camden Arts Institute for supporting staff in a management dispute in the 1960s and, tired of the bureaucratic constraints of nine-to-five employment, he set up his own banner painting company, going on to make more than 300 banners for National Union of Mineworkers lodges.

After moving to Aylsham in 1981, Mr Midgley married long-term partner Maggie, whom he met in London in 1969, and, after moving to Overstrand and later Mundesley, he sold his company and threw himself into his own work, taking part in dozens of joint and solo exhibitions.

John Midgley (right) with fellow artist Mike Pert, with whom he collaborated on two, concertina-styl

John Midgley (right) with fellow artist Mike Pert, with whom he collaborated on two, concertina-style art books. Photo: KAREN BETHELL - Credit: Archant


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Never afraid to innovate and keen to move away from the traditional Norfolk scenes of “big skies, sunsets and windmills”, he dreamed up projects including painting the same scene at Southrepps more than half a dozen times, arguing that if artists wanted to look for structure and meaning in life, they should “study the ordinary”. On reaching 80, he became keenly aware of his own mortality and painted more prolifically than ever, producing arguably some of his best work and, that year, achieving 60pc sales in three solo exhibitions.

He attributed much of his success to being in a “happy, stable relationship”, and said on the eve of his final exhibition: “I think 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.”

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Mrs Midgley, who is planning to hold an exhibition and a celebration of John’s life next spring, said: “John was a big, lovely man. He was the kindest friend, he always made people laugh and he encouraged young, and older, budding artists.”

A painting of a Sheringham street, created as part of a series entitled "backroads".
Photo: Karen B

A painting of a Sheringham street, created as part of a series entitled "backroads". Photo: Karen Bethell - Credit: Archant

A painting of a Sheringham street, created as part of a series entitled "backroads".
Photo: Karen B

A painting of a Sheringham street, created as part of a series entitled "backroads". Photo: Karen Bethell - Credit: Archant

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