The Bradford Mafia: When art world looked to Yorkshire

HE WAS among a group of Yorkshire men who shook the art world in the 1960s when they became known as the Bradford Mafia.

David Oxtoby with one of his works of art
David Oxtoby with one of his works of art

David Oxtoby together with David Hockney, Norman Stevens, John Loker and Michael Vaughan, all trained in Bradford in the 1950s and 1960s before heading for London.

Hockney, of course, went to the Royal College of Art and eventually became arguably Britain’s most successful living painter, while Oxtoby went to the Royal Academy Schools and focused on his passion - depicting musicians and rock stars.

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Now Oxtoby, 78, has earned a rare privilege: an exhibition of his work at the British Museum.

The King 1976 by David Oxtoby

Some of his paintings and etchings of Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Chuck Berry and David Bowie are on show together with images of his hero, Elvis Presley.

The exhibition is on display in the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings until early April.

A spokesman for the British Museum said that in the 1960s and 1970s when popular music was well and truly coming into its own, a series of paintings took the music and art world by storm.

“Entitled simply Oxtoby’s Rockers they were precisely that – a series of pictures by artist David Oxtoby depicting some of the major music stars of the day… Hendrix, Bowie, Elvis, Chuck Berry, they were all there.

The King 1976 by David Oxtoby

“That his pictures then were so successful paved the way for many of the ‘music artists’ that followed. His bold use of colour and line created more than just form, it gave the lie to the essence of the subject as well.”

He added: “Now, some 50 years later, The British Museum are displaying 20 of the 50 Oxtoby prints and drawings that they own, a unique opportunity for the public to appreciate and reacquaint themselves with the talent and originality that marked these pictures the first time round.

“It is extremely rare for the Museum to mount a major show by a living artist and that they are doing so, exhibiting these exciting prints and drawings by Oxtoby, is tribute indeed.”

Oxtoby, who was born in Horsforth, Leeds, but who now lives in London, studied at Bradford College of Art from 1950-57 alongside Hockney. He later studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1960 to 1964. His paintings attracted much attention at the time and he had several successful one-man shows in London.

While recovering from a serious illness, Oxtoby took up etching on the advice of his friend, the artist Norman Stevens. Thrilled with the immediate results, he went on to produce around 40 prints.

In 2011 the artist presented the British Museum with a substantial gift of his prints.

The pictures on display include depictions of Chuck Berry, Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Elton John and Roger Daltrey.

Examples of Oxtoby’s work can be found in collections at the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, Cartwright Hall, Sheffield City Art Gallery, The Whitworth, Glasgow Museums and Galleries and globally including Brazil, New York, Minneapolis, and Chicago. David has exhibited his work all over the world both in one man shows and in group exhibitions including the Redfern Gallery London, Cartwright Hall, Skipton Castle and The Royal Academy.

David Oxtoby was born in Horsforth in 1938 and studied in Bradford.

He worked as a labourer, freelance commercial artist and a seasonal artist at Blackpool illuminations, a theatre display and scenery painter and as a mural creator before moving to London.

He studied at the Royal Academy Schools, London, and from 1964-65 was visiting Professor of Painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. He was Fellow at Manchester College of Art for a term in 1966 and taught painting at Maidstone College of Art.

In 1972 he gave up teaching to concentrate on painting. Little survives of his work from the 1960s because of the loss of four years work in a warehouse fire.