Wednesday 26 March 2014

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old painter engaver who 'needed to understand the land he was born in', called Norman Ackroyd

PortraitNorman, who is one of Britain's most celebrated landscape artists is 76 years old today.
What you possibly didn't know about Norman, that he :

*  was born just before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1938 in Leeds, Yorkshire, where as a child, he later said he "was absolutely fascinated by maps as a child, to the point where I would almost imagine lying down and living in them" and where his love of landscape was nurtured by long bicycle rides in the Yorkshire Dales.

* had a father who was a butcher, not confident that art could be a sustaining career for his son and about whom Norman the successful artist said : "You do get that feeling with the architecture of the land, those massive slips and splits, say Muckle Roe on Shetland, for example - there are chasms that look like they were split with a butcher's cleaver."

* after leaving school, studied at Leeds College of Art followed by the Royal College of Art in London under Julian Tevelyan, which at first was a culture shock at a time of 'Pop Art' and the Swinging sixties, where in nearby studios David Hockney was painting boxes of Typhoo Tea and where he realised that he was as good and possibly better than his flashier peers.
* joined his contemporaries in New York in the early '70s, but couldn't settle and after several years returned to Britain later saying : "It was homesickness, but not a banal form. It was the feeling that I really needed to understand the land I was born in, to be back standing on my own muck. There's that fantastic Yeats line 'He that sings a lasting song, thinks in a marrow-bone'. I needed to have a more than superficial understanding."

Norman Ackroyd, Sula Sgeir. Etching, 2011* after his return, travelled to Orkney at the extreme northern point of the British Isles and began a project that saw him chart over 500 viewpoints of their most outlying areas described as : "This little group of islands sitting off the edge of Europe, which sits on the end of Asia and then you've got 3000 miles of ocean until you come to the Americas. So it really is the edge of everything."

* in the 1980s, in his forties, set up his studio in a former leather warehouse in Bermondsey, London, where he installed a large 1900-built printing press on the ground floor dates which he described as : "probably the best etching press in Europe and it’s an absolute delight to be able to work with it" on which he produced his landscape prints ranging from the small  intended to be bound into books to huge etchings.

* has a few lines of Milton on the studio staircase and said : "I have a huge poetry library upstairs and I know and work with a lot of poets. People like Seamus Heaney, Douglas Dunn, Bernard O'Donoghue. I've done poetry readings at the Bodleian Library in Oxford too."

* has said of the map on the wall that : "The pins in this map represent places I've been to and produced work. The big pins are where I've done full sets – places like St Kilda, Shetland, and Orkney. What interests me is when people have lived there. I like those traces of habitation."

* was appointed Professor of Etching at the University of the Arts, at the age of 56 in 1994, elected Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art at 62 and in 2007 was made CBE for 'Services to Engraving and Printing'.after having achieved an international reputation with works hanging as far apart as The Tate in London, New York’s MoMA and the British Embassy in Moscow.
* has said his preferred medium for working directly on paper is watercolour as illustrated in a recent project pairing them with poems by Kevin Crossley-Holland published under the title 'Moored Man.'

* for the Sainsbury commission at its laboratory at Cambridge University to celebrate the centenary of Darwin's death, travelled to the Galapagos Islands to research the diversity of fauna, flora, landscapes, returned with over 20 sketch books and began work on a frieze of forty etched metal plates.

 * featured on tv documentaries in 1980 and 2006 and last year in 'What Do Artists Do All Day?' :


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