AN unusual man was Jack Hellewell. Reclusive, modest in the extreme and excessively shy, he could hardly believe anyone would be interested in his art. Naturally, he was pleased when someone was prepared to buy a painting – but he wanted nothing to do with the selling process.
In the modern age of style over substance his self-deprecation was something of an anachronism: private views were to be avoided at all costs, interviews and photographs shunned.
Nevertheless, almost despite himself, Jack acquired a deserved reputation as one of the major Yorkshire artists of the latter part of the 20th century and on his death in 2000 he left behind 1,000 paintings, the number and quality of which amazed his family. Now the hidden hoard is being catalogued and sold at a rolling exhibition at Ann Petherick’s Kentmere House Gallery in Scarcroft Hill, York, which acts as Jack’s artistic executor.
Born in Bradford in 1920, he trained at Bradford College of Art and later lived in Menston and Ilkley. He served in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War, worked as a graphic designer and travelled widely overseas with his family before settling back in West Yorkshire for the last 25 years of his life.
A self-confessed “fanatical painter”, all his work was executed from memory and derived from personal experience. He refused to make a preliminary sketch as he believed it tied him down and had an uncanny ability to memorise a scene so he could paint it many years later.
He exhibited at the Royal Academy and at the Bankside Gallery in London on several occasions in the 1990s and his work is held in public gallery collections in Manchester and Rochdale as well as in corporate collections such as British Rail and National Power.
Anne Petherick, who has shown his work for the past 25 years, says of Jack: “I always looked forward to visiting his studio. His attic in Ilkley would be neatly stacked with canvasses and portfolios. ‘I haven’t done much’ he’d say and then the portfolios would be opened and the work would start to appear; astounding in its consistent quality and range and always singing with colour.
“He was the quietest and most modest of men. As a result there were very few people who were privileged to know him. He was a wonderful artist who deserved to be better known.”
About 300 of the 1,000 paintings Jack left are still for sale, although his daughter has found several she had forgotten about. Prices range from £500 to £650 for works on paper, £600 to £1,200 for canvasses.
There will also be an exhibition of previously unseen work in September.