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Celebrated North East artist Norman Cornish centenary celebrations announced


 The artist’s family, and galleries across County Durham, are launching a year-long centenary focus on one of the North East’s most celebrated artists, Norman Cornish – famous for capturing the hard-lived but often bright lives, despite adversity, faced in mining communities in the 20th century.

  • Six exhibitions across County Durham throughout 2019 offer some previously unseen works, fresh insights and a major retrospective of Norman Cornish’s art.
  • Work will be exhibited at The Bob Abley Gallery in Spennymoor Town Hall, the Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland, The Gala Gallery Durham, Durham University’s Palace Green Library, The Greenfield Gallery Newton Aycliffe and The Bowes Museum Barnard Castle.
  • The Norman Cornish Trail, around his hometown of Spennymoor, allows walkers to follow in the footsteps of the artist and return to the days of coal – once the life-blood of industry in this community.
  • Further exhibitions to celebrate the artist’s life and work include Gallery North Northumbria University and Castlegate House Gallery in Cockermouth; his former home from the 50s and 60s is set to be recreated at Beamish Museum as part of the Remaking Beamish Project.
  • The Norman Cornish Centenary year is part of Durham’s year-long celebration of culture, #Durham19
  • normancornish.com/centenary

“The local collieries have gone, together with the pit-road. Many of the old streets, chapels and pubs, are no more. Many of the ordinary but fascinating people who frequented these places are gone. However, in my memory, and I hope in my drawings, they live on. I simply close my eyes and they all spring to life.” Norman Cornish

Today the artist’s family, along with Durham County Council, and six galleries and arts venues across County Durham, announced details of the first in a series of exhibitions set to run throughout 2019 to mark the centenary of the birth of Norman Cornish.

Norman Cornish MBE was perhaps one of the most famous artists to emerge from the North East of England in the 20th Century and became one of the most celebrated British artists of his time. His works are held in public and private collections throughout the UK and beyond.

Born into the mining town of Spennymoor, County Durham, Cornish was a magnificent chronicler of one of the most important passages in English history. He recorded the social environment and industrial landscape in which he lived and worked; he was deeply attracted to humanity – to the wonderful shapes people made in their varied attitudes.

The paintings and drawings of Cornish tell the story of these hard-lived lives in a community which endured despite prejudice and adversity. He has not only preserved a life lived by millions of people in this country and others around the world, he has given it significance and permanence that only a real artist can achieve.

Cornish died in 2014, but 2019 marks the centenary of his birth and his family has worked in partnership with curators, academics, artists, biographers, galleries and the community to draw together a celebration of his life and work. This year will offer those familiar with his work, and with an already deep affection for it, new perspectives and the opportunity to see many previously unseen pieces, while also introducing his work to new audiences.

In Norman Cornish’s hometown, a new exhibition at the Bob Abley Art Gallery in Spennymoor tells the fascinating story of his mural depicting the Durham Miners’ Gala, painted by the artist in 1963.

The Story of the Durham Miners’ Gala Mural features a range of preparatory paintings, drawings, sketches and correspondence plotting the artist’s sometimes challenging journey from the commission of the nine-metre mural by Durham County Council to its installation at Durham’s County Hall, Aykley Heads where it remains. This exhibition contains many items which are previously unseen by the public, as well as works for sale, and runs throughout the centenary year from 6 April 2019 to the end of February 2020.

In Bishop Auckland, the Mining Art Gallery, part of The Auckland Project brings a different perspective to the celebrations with a special exhibition demonstrating Norman Cornish’s deeply ingrained identity within the community, felt still by those whose history it mirrors.

 Norman Cornish – A Slice of Life is co-curated by residents of Norman’s home-town of Spennymoor, alongside his children John and Ann, all guided by the gallery’s curator Angela Thomas of The Auckland Project.

Community Groups including the Spennymoor Settlement Sketching Club, Rosa Street School and Tudhoe & Spennymoor Local History Society have selected work by Norman from various themes, including some rarely seen mining and street scenes. Their selections offer a warm and refreshing perspective on one of the most enduringly popular artists, as well as a fresh insight into how his work resonates with the community that lives on today.

This temporary exhibition sits alongside the Mining Art Gallery’s permanent collection featuring further work by Norman Cornish, as well as other prominent artists such as Tom McGuinness, Tom Lamb and Bob Olley.

Norman Cornish – A Slice of Life opens at the Mining Art Gallery, Bishop Auckland Market Place opens on 6 April 2019.

Returning to Spennymoor, where Cornish was born and lived his whole life, the Spennymoor Town Council is opening the superbly refurbished John Kitson Archway within the Spennymoor Town Hall where a rich and diverse selection of the artist’s work is uniquely displayed on backlit glass panels, forming a stunning celebration of his work.

For those visiting the artist’s home town of Spennymoor, a visit would not be complete without taking in The Norman Cornish Trail which sets his work in their actual locations – taking people back to a time when coal was once the life-blood of industry and an important part of community life.

Visitors can walk in Cornish’s footsteps guided by a free trail guide or app offering insights into the 10 key locations which were the source of his inspiration.

Later in 2019, four further exhibitions will be announced at Gala Gallery in Durham (Portraiture, June – Sept); The Greenfield Gallery in Newton Aycliffe (Man of Destiny – success over adversity, Oct – Dec); Durham University’s Palace Green Library (The Norman Cornish Sketchbooks, Nov – Feb); and Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle (A Major Retrospective, Nov – Feb).

Cornish’s former home from the 1950s and 60s is set to be re-created as part of the Remaking Beamish Project 1950s’ town, which is expected to conclude the centenary events around the region.

2019 promises to be a spectacular year for Durham as it is designated as the county’s Year of Culture. With an incredible line-up of openings, activities, festivals, events and anniversaries, there’s never been a better time to celebrate and shout about the county’s diverse range of sport, culture, arts and heritage. Get involved #Durham19.

Norman’s son John Cornish said: “As a family, we are delighted that my father’s legacy is being recognised with such an exciting programme of exhibitions at galleries across Durham County and beyond. Enduring projects such as ‘The Norman Cornish Trail’ in his home town of Spennymoor, and the unique display of his artwork on glass in the refurbished archway there, will ensure his legacy lives on.

“We are very proud of the esteem in which my father’s work is held by the public and we hope the planned exhibitions and events will serve to reinforce the region’s pride in its cultural heritage.

Cllr Ossie Johnson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for tourism, culture, leisure and rural issues, said: “Norman Cornish was an extremely influential artist, particularly in the North East, so I am thrilled that we are working with our partners to honour his work during this special centenary year.

“The packed programme of events and activities is sure to appeal to a wide audience: from those who are lifelong fans of Norman to those who are new to his work. And with so much on offer, I’m sure this year of celebrations will also draw in plenty of visitors from outside our county – making the centenary a key part of our Year of Culture.”

Colin Ranson, Bob Abley Gallery and Spennymoor Town Hall said: “Norman Cornish is synonymous with Spennymoor and so many of our streets, landmarks and ways of life have been captured by him. Our new Trail around the town brings his story to life for those living here and those who visit for his centenary, showing the strong connection he had with his community. This is perfectly complemented by a stunning installation of the artist’s work in the John Kitson Archway.

“Norman’s largest undertaking was the fascinating and stunning nine-metre mural depicting the Durham Miners’ Gala. At the Bob Abley Gallery, we will tell the story from commission to completion with correspondence, preparatory paintings and sketches previously not seen by the public.”

Angela Thomas, Curator, Mining Art Gallery said: “The Auckland Project is delighted to be celebrating Norman Cornish’s impact as one of the country’s best-known mining artists, both on the local community he lovingly immortalised and the UK public. For this exhibition we felt it was important to give a voice to the communities Norman lived amongst and took inspiration from. We’ve invited them to choose some of their favourite works and think about what they mean to them today, highlighting how Norman’s work continues to resonate with all kinds of people. There has been a hugely positive response to Norman’s work from visitors since the gallery opened in 2017, and we hope the centenary celebrations encourage even more people to come and discover his unique point of view.”

More information on the artist and the Norman Cornish Centenary events can be found at www.normancornish.com /centenary

The Norman Cornish Centenary Exhibition programme is supported by Arts Council England National Lottery Fund.