My Yorkshire: Whitby artist Rob Shaw

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Born in Derbyshire, artist Rob Shaw lives and works in Staithes, near Whitby. His work has been shown internationally in New York, Singapore and Tokyo and he is co-chair of the Staithes Arts and Heritage Festival.

What’s your earliest Yorkshire memory?

Visiting Whitby as a teenager – we stopped in a guesthouse somewhere on the Crescent between Christmas and New Year – I think I was about 13 years old. I remember the whale bones, pier (which would have a lasting impression) and the cold! I fell in love with the place. We lived about as far from the sea as you can get, but family holidays were always on the coast. My parents moved permanently to the Yorkshire coast when I was about 20. I felt I’d come home.

What’s your favourite part of the county?

Here, Staithes, the place I’ve chosen to live and work. It’s a thriving community and I’ve got a studio overlooking the sea, and I also get to go out to sea fishing. This is where I started to paint; right at the beginning there was a day when the waves were coming over the cottages on the high street and the drama of it really got to me. I did a painting and my parents took it to a gallery in Castleton without me knowing. On the strength of that one painting they offered me a solo show. This was around 1996.

What’s your favourite day out?

I’d meet up with my girlfriend Karen who lives in Halifax and wander round The Hepworth Wakefield as it’s hard to keep her out of art galleries. We’d have a nice pub lunch somewhere in the country, then pick up her girls and my daughter and head for body boarding at Sandsend. To top the night off we’d barbecue on the beach in Staithes.

Hidden gem?

The Ship Inn at Port Mulgrave. It’s no longer a pub, but a brilliant café. Jane and Tom have a great eye for detail and there’s loads of cool vintage stuff. Jane’s a fantastic baker – her lemon cake is the best. It’s a great place to settle in the winter, with the fire going and all the papers to read. And if you’re lucky(!) Tom will crack out his accordion and give you a tune. In the summer there’s a lovely secret garden at the back.

What’s your favourite walk and view?

When the tide is right I love to walk the foreshore along to Boulby Cliffs and take the rope ladder up the 666ft climb and then back along the cliff tops. If you have access to him, do the walk with Bill Hinchley, a local historian and friend. I swear he knows the name of every rock and pebble and makes the walk the most fascinating experience.

If you could own an object for a day, what would it be?

A painting by Len Tabner made in November 1988, of heavy seas breaking into Staithes harbour. His choice of colour and movement inspired me. It’s hard to put into words to describe it so I will stick with the Walter Sickert quote ‘If I could put it into words then I wouldn’t need to paint it’.

What gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

The stunning coastline and particularly the characters. Here in Staithes there’s plenty of both. When I got back here in 2007 I knew this was the place I wanted to be, I’d spent too much time down south with them southern jessies and couldn’t wait to get back to Yorkshire.

What’s your favourite restaurant or pub?

The Bridge Cottage Café at Sandsend. It’s kind of tucked away but only a minute from the beach. The food is fabulous – adventurous and innovative – and they do fantastic fish and chips as well. I love to go there with family and friends and sit out in the garden.

Who is the Yorkshire person you most admire?

The owners of Staithes Gallery, Dave and Al Milnes. They selflessly and with great integrity support and encourage local artists – they’ve enabled me to paint full time for over ten years. They continue the long tradition of art in Staithes. And Al makes a mean cup of Yorkshire tea when she’s not stuffing her face with biscuits!

If a visitor had just one day to experience Yorkshire, where would you send them? Out to sea in a traditional coble, to view the land from a different point of view. To quote from the film Jaws, ‘it’s only an island if you look at it from the sea’. Staithes has been famous for its fishing for many generations which interests me greatly and long may it continue. Try and get out with a local fisherman to add some flavour.

How has living in Yorkshire influenced your work? This is very simple; without Staithes and North Yorkshire I wouldn’t have discovered painting. Mark Twain once said that the two most important days in your life are the one when you are born and the one you found out why. Staithes gave me the why.

If you could change anything about Yorkshire, what would it be?

That’s easy …..I would move Halifax closer to the coast.

What are you working on at the moment?

The Staithes Arts and Heritage Festival. Now in its sixth year, it takes up a fair amount of time, but I paint every day. Currently I’m working on paintings using a technique that is new me, it’s called ‘colour’, long overdue after many years painting in monotone grey!

Staithes Arts & Heritage Festival, September 9 & 10. staithesfestival.com