Landscape artist Kitty North turns a Yorkshire Dales cottage into a work of art

Most of us have painted the lounge walls at one time or another, but Kitty North has gone a step further and turned an entire cottage in the tiny village of Arncliffe, in Littondale, into a work of art.

She bought the dilapidated cottage, which is next door to Prospect House, home to her studio and gallery, and together with friend and fellow artist Robin Lucas transformed it into what she’s called The Art House.

In the space of just five weeks last summer, the pair turned all the walls of the three-bedroom cottage into an artwork. “I thought I’d do something completely different and so from head to toe I’ve bought the Yorkshire Dales into the house,” says Kitty.

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“There’s the Ribblehead Viaduct, there’s Malham, there’s the grouse moors, there’s barns and a garden and trout swimming round the bathroom. So there’s not one bit of wall that isn’t covered in art… It was in such a bad way that whatever you did, it was going to make it look better. So it was just a licence to go for it.”

Homecoming - one of Kitty's paintings in her Yorkshire Vision exhibition

Kitty North is one of the most recognised and admired landscape artists in the country, and as well as turning a Dales cottage into a work of art she has also been creating new works on canvas during the pandemic that take centre stage in her latest solo exhibition, A Yorkshire Vision, which is on show at Skipton Town Hall this month.

In normal times, she divides her time between London, where she also has a gallery, and Arncliffe. Over the past 20 months though, she has spent most of her time in the latter, which she has used to immerse herself in nature.

“I found it fascinating watching nature in a very slow way. I’d find myself looking at a snail for half an hour crossing the road, or a curlew would come and talk to me in a way I’d never known before because nobody was around. It was like it was saying ‘what’s up with the human race?’ It was really interesting seeing how nature changed,” she says.

“The first lockdown was interesting because you weren’t allowed to go anywhere and for someone who always goes outside to draw and responds to nature that meant a different way of working, which was a good kind of challenge.”

Kitty North at Bolton Abbey in 2013. (Bruce Rollinson).

At the start of the year she created a series of winter paintings. “We had the most beautiful January. It was very cold and it was my perfect idea of winter where you get those still, pink days. Nature’s finally gone to sleep and you can see the sheep crunching through the frost and there were incredible moonlit nights up here because we haven’t any light pollution.

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“You had these cobalt skies and you could see the moonlight stretching right across the frosty fields and it was magnificent. I’d never seen it like that before so I did lots of white paintings. I’ve always loved painting snow, there’s something magical about it.”

One of the rooms in 'The Art House'.

As the weather improved, she also revisited some of her favourite haunts. “I’ve been to places like Burnsall and Bolton Abbey and had a lovely time painting away.”

For Kitty, painting was also a way of coping with what’s been happening in the world. “It’s been essential for me, it’s what feeds my soul. I like to go to London and do exhibitions there but I always come back to this extraordinary landscape.”

It’s a landscape she has been smitten with ever since she was a girl growing up in Kirkby Lonsdale. It was here that she did her first “serious” painting – a view of Ingleborough from her bedroom window – when she was 13. “That was a defining moment for me. It wasn’t particularly good, but I just knew this was what I wanted to do.”

In 1980 she went to Chelsea School of Art, where her peers included Ralph Fiennes, followed by further study in Brighton and Manchester.

She has been living and working in Yorkshire for more than 30 years now, with her work widely exhibited and collected around the world. In recent years, she has also been involved in projects for Salts Mill, Chatsworth House and Bolton Abbey.

Arncliffe has been her home for the past 10 years and the Dales village has also been used as a filming location in Channel 5’s popular version of All Creatures Great and Small, with one particular cast member taking centre stage.

“Tricki Woo was sitting sort of lording it up on the village green, which was quite funny,” recalls Kitty. “He came up from London that day and he had a special minder, which I thought was quite entertaining.”

Part of the appeal of the TV series is the breathtaking Dales scenery, which Kitty knows all about. “Every day is different. You go to the Ribblehead Viaduct and you see it in a different way from the last time. Even driving to Bradford the other day, you see the winter sun and it’s so completely different to other times in the year and it’s not until you’re out observing these things on a daily basis that you fully appreciate it.”

Kitty’s work has been evolving as she spends more time working in acrylics rather than oils, though she has found herself still going back to some of her older oil paintings many years after she first started them. “There’s something rather wonderful about the journey you continue with a painting.”

As well as her Skipton exhibition, she has other projects in the pipeline and is looking at ways of opening up her “Art House” so people can visit it. “The original idea was to use it for art courses and have creative people, artists and writers here and to keep it as a creative space, but we’ll look at what we can do,” she says.

“It’s taken me in a new direction and painting on walls was very liberating because there weren’t the four edges of a canvas. I’ve always wanted to do an opera set and it was a bit like that. It’s your perfect Yorkshire cottage and then you come in and you find this magical world of the Dales brought indoors.”

Kitty North: A Yorkshire Vision runs at Skipton Town Hall until December 23, with entry free.

Kitty’s Prospect Gallery at Arncliffe is open for viewings, Wednesdays and Fridays, 10am-1pm, and by appointment. Details at kittynorth.com.