Durham, Morning Light, watercolour
This is where my life in the North really started.
I had passed through Durham several times as a child, but always asleep - swaying gently in my bunk on the sleeper train from Kings Cross to Aberdeen. I have a dream-like image in my head of the long train steaming up the East of England under the summer moon, rattling through a litany of slumbering cities on its way to the wake-up call of the Forth Bridge crossing.
I knew nothing about Durham when I arrived: nothing about coal seams, outside toilets, working men’s clubs, the pitmatic dialect, the Prince Bishops, the Northumbrian saints, panhaggerty and Category D villages. I didn’t know that John Ruskin had declared the view from the station the eighth wonder of the world when, transfixed, I gazed at the miraculous, misty vision of the cathedral and castle rising on their rock above the city from a green cloud of trees. The streets curved, flowing around the meander of the River Wear and, beyond, the blue hills disappeared into the distance.
From my hilltop college I could walk down narrow footpaths, over a fairytale bridge and into the shadowed heart of the cathedral in a few glorious minutes. In the pubs and cafes and clubs I got to know musicians and artists. The lilting cadences of their accents, the unshakeable sureness of their shared culture and the warmth with which they included me in their lives left an indelible impression on me. I began to lose what Southern reserve I had and learn empathy and trust.
Beyond its medieval roots Durham was built on and paid for by coal. North Road crosses Framwellgate Bridge and climbs to the Market Place. A right turn takes you higher, between towering facades, to Palace Green where at one end stands the cathedral, and, at the other, the castle. This is Durham’s display of stately grandeur and it’s amazing.
But if you turn left you cross the 12th century Elvet Bridge. For one day in the year this street is bursting with brass bands and banners and marching feet as a socialist celebration - the Big Meeting (the Durham Miners’ Gala) - takes over the town. The heritage of hard work, humour, political fire and music of the Durham coalfield comes into the ancient city in a blaze of glory.
And there, in a nutshell, you have an essential feature of Durham’s character: inequality. It’s the gulf between the easy privilege of the church and university and the legacy of hard labour, between reserve and verve, between the arrogance of assumed authority and the refusal to submit to it.
There is a good humoured echo here of a theme which runs through the North - revolt against the South. In 1069 the people of the Northumbria - the kingdom recently subsumed into England - rose up against their newly installed conquerors in a bid to recreate an independent North. With their ancient allies of Scotland and Denmark they attacked the garrison of Durham Castle and slaughtered it, moving on to besiege York. They failed, but the spark of revolution was never to be completely extinguished.
From "Northern Soul" by Ian Scott Massie
The book is available from Masham Gallery
The exhibition of Northern Soul opens at Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton le Hole, North Yorkshire with a preview on April 3rd.
Durham Cathedral from the Viaduct, watercolour
In 2016 I had the idea of creating an exhibition about my life in the North of England. The idea grew into a series of paintings and prints and then into a book. I found that delving into my past, trying to see how I first saw the places I discovered in the North, was an amazing source of inspiration.
The exhibition began touring in 2019 having its debut at Cannon Hall near Barnsley and then moving to Masham Gallery. This year it's going to Ryedale Folk Museum, Farfield Mill and Sunny Banks Mills - all places which relate to different aspects of the North and my time there.
This year I'd thought I'd accompany the exhibition with an occasional blog including extracts from the book and some of the pictures. Here's the first instalment. The year is 1973...
"I came to the North of England in September 1973. At the age of twenty I had come to learn how to be a music teacher, at a college in Durham. I was deeply unhappy. I was going to a strange city a long way from home, my lovely father was dying of cancer, I was about to study for a career that I was in no way sure I wanted to do and, since my exam results had been appalling, I had great doubts about my ability to stay the course.
Little did I know that the North would make me. I would grow up there, discover talents for teaching and making art that I never suspected, discover places and music and stories that I would love for the rest of my life, and find happiness.
Along the way one question would occasionally surface: What makes the North the North? It isn’t simply that old cliche: a hard-working alternative to a soft and lazy South, and yet it’s a hard question to answer. It is an alternative of sorts - an alternative to the dreamy chocolate-box portrayal of England that exists only in the imagination. Perhaps, if we’re honest, its the truth of England, where all things are seen clearly: the incomparable beauty of the landscape, the harsh ugliness left by industry, the great wealth of the aristocracy, the miserable housing of the poor, the civic pride of the mill towns and a people as likely to be mobilised by political oratory as by a comedian with a ukulele.
The North is a place made up of a multitude of races, each with their own deep pool of stories which combine to make a shared way of life. Mining, the Potato Famine, the textile industry, persecution, war and politics all brought different people to the North. The list goes on.
So I’ve approached the Northern Soul as though it were a jigsaw puzzle: examining the pieces I’ve come across over the years for what they can tell me. I’ve got some bits of the edge and some promising parts of the middle but I’d be lying if I said I was close to completing it. There are parts of the North I know only slightly and others I know like the back of my hand, and I’ll plead guilty now to favouring some places over others because that’s just the way it is.
So this book is at once the log of a long, as yet unfinished, journey, and a love letter to the North of England. It’s about the places I’ve known and painted, and what part they play in this complex, careworn, mountainous, multifaceted, wave-tossed, warm-welcoming, windblown, freezing, friendly, tough spirited, tender hearted, rusty, rebellious, ruinous, green, golden, chilled- out, challenging, deep-rooted, dale-scattered, subtle, smoky, special land. "
From "Northern Soul" by Ian Scott Massie
The book is available from Masham Gallery
The exhibition opens at Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton le Hole with a preview on April 3rd.
2nd September - 25th October
The Courtyard, Claydon Estate
The Claydon Gallery in Buckinghamshire is on the famed Claydon estate - a National Trust gem.
I was delighted when the gallery asked me to take part in their exhibition of printmaking. I've a soft spot for Buckinghamshire having grown up in the Southern toe of "Leafy Bucks" and spent many happy days cycling and walking in the lovely Chiltern Hills.
Between us the gallery and I have selected a group of my screen prints which cover a broad range of images and which include some of the prints of which I am most proud. I've included them below.
If you are interested in any of them please contact Claydon Gallery.
Whitby is a very special place - the harbour where Captain Cook set out to explore the other side of the world, the churchyard where Dracula makes one of his most macabre appearances and a spectacular old town which draws artists like me every day.
So how to find a new angle on a place I've painted and printed so many times before? For me the answer is always to think of how people see a place. To a sailor the lighthouses at the harbour mouth are the welcoming arms to a safe haven out of the rough and tumble of the cold North Sea.
So that was my starting point.
This is a reduction screen print made of 4 layers of ink. This deep blue pigment is a favourite of mine and casts a sense of the sea over the whole picture.
If you'd like a copy you can get one from Masham Gallery - just CLICK HERE to go to their screen print shop page.
Moor Stories is an exhibition of paintings and prints based on stories from the North York Moors. I've spent a happy couple of years walking, sketching and talking to people - collecting stories and ideas for pictures as I went.
The result is this exhibition at the Inspired By ... Gallery, The Moors National Park Centre, Danby, YO21 2NB. The exhibition closes on 25th July 2017. To see (and buy) the paintings CLICK HERE
Above: The High Fields, Coverdale, limited edition print.
The first time I came to Coverdale I was driving from Durham to Dow Cave – a pothole in Wharfedale. As I pootled into Wensleydale I worked out that if I took the road over the end of Penhill I could cut off a substantial corner. It was one of my better decisions but I doubted its wisdom at first.
My little blue Morris 1000 van, nicknamed The Jellymould, struggled up the near vertical hairpin bends of Capple Bank with a groaning gearbox but finally made it to the highest point of the road. I pulled over and got out.
From here a great swathe of Yorkshire was laid out. To the left lay Wensleydale, with the ridges of Swaledale beyond. Ahead lay the Vale of York and, beyond, the North York Moors. To my right lay the undiscovered country of Coverdale but, looking across the grouse-chattering moor, I could see a promising line of fells.
I got back into the Morris, crossed the moor and came through a tiny village into a small (by Yorkshire standards) dale of green fields, heather and bracken uplands, and limestone farms. Lost in trees in the valley bottom flowed the little River Cover. I turned toward the Dale head and my destination.
I’ve made the journey to the Dale dozens of times since, and it’s always wonderful. As you drive east Coverdale grows narrower, the hillsides steeper, the ground more barren. Green hedges become drystone walls. Driving up the rise to the watershed, the bulk of Great Whernside looms up on the left. Across the moor to the right lie drove roads to Waldendale and Bishopdale. To either side of the cattle grid at the Dale Head is the Dark Age earthwork of Tor Dyke.
This place is close to heaven. Behind, Coverdale’s modest length of seventeen miles disappears into the distance. Ahead, the heights of Park Rash fall away into Wharfedale. Above, larks seem to sing in a summer sky, even in winter.
(From Places of Pilgrimage by Ian Scott Massie, published by SPCK)
Copies of The High Fields, Coverdale print and the book of Places of Pilgrimage are available from Masham Gallery. For print CLICK HERE, for the book CLICK HERE.
Below: Coverdale, watercolour
Places of Pilgrimage: Cambridge
The tour of my exhibition Places of Pilgrimage has reached its final destination: Cambridge Contemporary Art. This lovely gallery have represented me for many years and it's the perfect place for the exhibition's travels to end.
I'm including three images from the exhibition in this blog: Bridge of Sighs, Dawn, King's College and Stockport Viaduct.
In the book which accompanies the exhibition I give a description of my first visit to Cambridge:
"I parked on Queen’s Road where the broad paddocks look across to Trinity College. And, like a stroll through a country meadow, the path led to the River Cam and over a small bridge. I stood and looked at the iconic stretch of water. Like the warm, grainy footage of an old travelogue, punts were gliding beneath trailing willows, and mellow stone colleges lay between me and the city centre.
I entered Cambridge between the high walls of Trinity Lane. By great good fortune I had found my way into the heart of this beautiful city by the loveliest route.
On my right was the tower of Great St. Mary’s Church and the ethereal majesty of King’s College. Along the road to my left lay the great gate house of Trinity College and the Round Church. This short half mile of astonishing architecture, from the elaborate gilded beasts of St. John’s to the half-timbered perfection of Queen’s College, captivated me then and still does.
The atmosphere, even when this street is at its busiest, is relaxed, as though Cambridge wears her jewels lightly. Shadows span the narrow spaces, sun falls on warm stones and bicycles of every vintage glide between the buildings.
Many people strive to come here: to study where their heroes have studied, to dip into the huge river of knowledge which flows behind those college gates and, of course, to tread the hallowed boards of the university’s famed Footlights Society, where Fry and Laurie, Mitchell and Webb and so many Pythons and Goodies have learned their trade.
For me it is a place for browsing in bookshops, for lingering over a coffee, for picking up a pencil and sketching a Georgian cupola, a Baroque pediment, a Tudor tower. For an architectural pilgrim or an artist it is close to heaven."
The exhibition continues at Cambridge Contemporary Arts until May 1st 2017. I hope you manage to visit but, if not, you can see all the pictures from the exhibition if you CLICK HERE
St Gregory’s Minster
is a small, very beautiful, church at the foot of the North York Moors.
One of the treasures of Yorkshire is just above the church door sheltered by the porch. Here, carved on the back of a coffin slab, is a sundial. Flanking the dial is this inscription, written in Old English somewhere between 1055 and 1065:
“Orm the son of Gamal, bought St Gregory’s Church when it was broken and fallen, and had it made anew from the ground in honour of Christ and St Gregory, in the days of Edward the King and Tosti the Earl.”
Inside the church is the original arched doorway, no wider than a shoulder width. I think it's beautiful - a reminder of the human scale on which this church was originally built.
Thank you Orm.
The print is a reduction screen print and is currently on show at:
An exhibition by the members of North Yorkshire Printmakers' Circle featuring work on the theme of an "artifact" but including a wide range of other work from some of the North's finest printmakers.
Ryedale Folk Museum
Hutton-le-Hole, Kirkbymoorside, YO62 6UA 10th September – 4th December 2016
I suppose every print maker find themselves in this position sooner or later. I've been sorting prints today and found I had one left of Ribblehead Viaduct which I thought had all sold out. If you'd like to have this its a snip at £119. CLICK HERE to let me know
Places of Pilgrimage arrives at Durham Cathedral with a preview on Tuesday 1st November. Between 6.30 and 8.30 pm you can see my paintings and prints of special places, with a few pictures especially created for this exhibition.
This exhibition and the accompanying book have many strands which are personally important running through them. In this case it is the setting of the cathedral’s Undercroft Restaurant. It was in this lovely medieval room, almost 40 years ago, that I sold the first paintings of my professional career.
Durham is a very important place for me . I describe it like this in the book of the exhibition:
“I return to Durham whenever I can: to linger on Prebends Bridge and gaze at the cathedral, to walk the curving, cobblestoned Bailey, to stroll through the Close, to stand in the Galilee Chapel or, best of all, to climb to the roof of the tower. Durham Cathedral feels wonderful, deep, real. It has wrapped its shadows round me when I’ve needed comfort; it held me in streams of refracted light when I’ve felt joy; it has waited patiently for me to order my thoughts when I’ve needed space to think. It is a place of sanctuary, standing a little outside of the world. It is a friend.”
Please come and join me for a chat and a drink at the preview if you can.
I’ve made a special page of the work on show. If you CLICK HERE you can see it. There is also a film about the exhibition (showing me painting the cathedral). CLICK HERE to watch.