Artists find inspiration up on the Moors

Joe Cornish's photograph, Staithes by Moonlight
Joe Cornish's photograph, Staithes by Moonlight
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This year is the 60th anniversary of the North York Moors becoming a National Park. Nick Ahad discovers that artists and their work are at the centre of the celebrations.

As the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics come to town, here in Yorkshire another very special anniversary is being celebrated.

The North York Moors by Joe Cornish

The North York Moors by Joe Cornish

It was 60 years ago this year that the North York Moors National Park came into existence.

While the roughly hewn West Yorkshire moors have inspired writers from Emily Brontë to Ted Hughes, Simon Armitage has found inspiration over towards the Pennines, and the landscape of the south of the county seems to have brought the muse out for musicians, North Yorkshire appears to get the creative juices of a different sort of artist flowing.

The moors in the north of the county, and the North York Moors National Park in particular, seem to have inspired those who communicate their art through a paintbrush and easel.

So it seemed entirely apt that, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the National Park, a collection of artists should be brought on board to mark the occasion.

Inspired Landscape is a new exhibition held right at the heart of the North York Moors at The Moors National Park Centre and opens tomorrow.

The exhibition brings together the painters Peter Hicks, Len Tabner and William Tillyer, glass artists Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones, and photographer Joe Cornish.

They are all artists who have impressive reputations on a national and international stage and whose work is featured in public and private collections in the UK and abroad. And, despite their work being popular, all have remained in the region that inspires their work.

Andy Wilson, chief executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority said it was important to mark the 60th anniversary and that, when it was decided to do so with art, those involved should be local artists.

“The North York Moors has long been a magnet for artists and we are also blessed with considerable artistic talent on our doorstep. I am thrilled that six of our resident artists, who are at the top of their respective fields, have agreed to put on this very special exhibition to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the National Park,” he says.

It might be obvious what inspires artist to visit the breathtaking landscape of the North York Moors – Inspired Landscape is a pretty obvious title for such an exhibition.

The six artists are diverse in terms of what they create, but the thing they have in common is that the moors provide them with inspiration.

William Tillyer is one of Britain’s most respected artists and has selected for the exhibition his photographs taken in the early 1970s as well as prints, which show off manmade and natural forms in the landscape.

Tillyer says: “A quote in Geoffrey Grigson’s book on Samuel Palmer mentions a drawing in Palmer’s notebook titled, Remember that Primitive Cottage Feeling.

“This quote has a long and influential standing in my work. Palmer refers to the way a cottage he happened upon, was totally and completely accepted, embraced, by its rural environment. The geometry and exactitude of man-made forms, against the rampant disorder of nature would, for most onlookers, represent a counter, a jarring to the rural idyll. “My work addresses this disjuncture between the geometric and organic, the classical and romantic, reconciling these inherently contradictory positions.”

Internationally-known Len Tabner, famous for painting outside in all weathers and at amazing speed using watercolours and pastel, is concerned not only with the visual appearance of the place but with the total experience of being there, in the landscape, while he creates his work.

Tabner says: “‘My work is concerned with the experience of being in, rather than merely looking at, the landscape. I am trying to express the whole feeling of being present in a place as well as the presence of the place itself. I am concerned as much with the tactile aspects of the landscape as those that are visual. In many landscapes I am trying to draw the wind and weather as much as the forms of the land itself.”

Kate Jones and Stephen Gillies’ works of contemporary blown glass have found their way into public and private collections including the V&A.

The location of their studio, actually on the North York Moors, they say has a significant impact on the work they create.

Kate Jones says: “Our use of colour, surface and forms are unavoidably informed by the constant visual experience of the remarkable landscape in which we live and work.”

Joe Cornish, renowned photographer and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society has undertaken a number of commissions for the National Trust and has devoted the last 16 years to the landscape and natural world of the North of England and Scotland.

“I have photographed on and around the Moors since I moved to its western edge two decades ago. The years of walking, of standing in the teeth of a gale, or clambering through snowdrifts, of marvelling at spring wildflowers in the schisty soils, of watching the sun sinking over the blanket of August heather, or of climbing up through mist onto high ridges on an autumn morning – these years have helped me understand the moods and beauty of the Moors,” he says.

The Moors, it seems, hold much for each of these artists. All have exhibited widely, but this is the first time the Yorkshire-based artists have shown their work together. The Arts Council-funded exhibition is free to enter.

Peter Hicks recently exhibited at Messum’s, Cork Street, London. He says: “I chose to concern myself as a painter with landscape as a means to communicate ideas – light, lie-of-the-land and atmosphere.”

He chose the perfect place.