Ashley Jackson and Graham Ibbeson: Art to the people

Ashley Jackson and Graham Ibbeson on the moors above Holmfirth
Ashley Jackson and Graham Ibbeson on the moors above Holmfirth
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Ashley Jackson and Graham Ibbeson are two of Yorkshire’s best known artists. Chris Bond talks to them ahead of their new joint exhibition at Cusworth Hall.

ON the face of it you might think that Ashley Jackson’s brooding watercolours and Graham Ibbeson’s humorous sculptures, his “visual gags” as he calls them, are like chalk and cheese.

Graham Ibbeson

Graham Ibbeson

And in some respects they are, which perhaps explains the title of a new joint exhibition – Opposites Attract – that opens at Cusworth Hall, near Doncaster tomorrow. The exhibition, which runs through to June next year, features 10 of Jackson’s paintings and around 16 of Ibbeson’s sculptures, none of which are for sale.

The two artists have been good friends for a number of years and while stylistically their work may seem worlds apart, they share a passion for making art accessible to ordinary people. And this, they are keen to point out, is the reason why they’ve teamed up for their latest collaboration which includes a “big draw” event at the hall on October 14, where both artists will be holding free workshops throughout the day.

“Every time I’ve had an exhibition I’ve always thought about kids and learning and that’s why Graham and I are doing this, to tutor the children,” says Jackson.

“I’ve done work in prisons and you have to ask yourself why do kids in borstal or detention centres suddenly want to paint and draw, why couldn’t they do it when they were outside? It’s because they’ve had no encouragement.”

Ashley Jackson

Ashley Jackson

Ibbeson agrees. “I think that’s right and it’s also about demystifying art. Sculpture is a complicated process and it’s slow and laborious and what we’re doing is explaining how it all works and how you end up with a painting and a sculpture,” he says.

“The thing about our work is it’s accessible and both Ashley and I are accessible and what we want to do is go out there and talk to children, show them aspects of what we do and also hopefully inspire them.”

Jackson has been a professional artist for more than 50 years and his atmospheric watercolour paintings have made him synonymous with the Yorkshire landscape, while Ibbeson has become one of the country’s most popular sculptors thanks to his public statues of much-loved people like Eric Morecambe and Fred Trueman.

What also unites both men and their work, in a spiritual sense at least, is their Yorkshire roots – or more specifically Barnsley. “I was told by my old mentor Ron Darwent that I could be one of two things, I could either look like an artist, or I could be one,” says Jackson.

“Even though I wasn’t born in Barnsley, or even in England, I was bred in Barnsley and the thing about people from Barnsley is they’ve got grit and determination and they’re hard workers. The people who’ve bought my work over the years are the working class mostly, not the aristocrats. So it’s important that my work is accessible.”

This sense of place, 
while manifesting itself differently, courses through their work.

“I don’t think my work has changed all that much throughout my career,” Ibbeson explains. “I see 
my sculptures as one-line 
gags and I use humour as a tool and that humour comes from the people of Barnsley where I was brought up.”

It still informs his work today. “You can’t give any bull to Yorkshire folk. If I’m in my local [pub] I’m not Graham the artist, I’m just one of the lads. People don’t let you get too big for your boots and that’s important.”

This prompts an anecdote from Jackson. “I was doing some filming for Calendar for a mini series following in the footsteps of Turner. We were out at Gordale Scar and the rain was chucking it down.

“There was a group of kids who were on holiday and they were watching me paint, they didn’t know the cameras were running and one of them said, ‘that’s ******* great.’ He could have said ‘my dad could do better,’ but he didn’t. Either way you’re getting a response and if we’re going to get more kids interested in art, that’s what we need.”

He believes that art can give children skills for life. “It isn’t just to do with Graham’s sculptures or my paintings, the word ‘art’ comes from ‘artisan’ and pretty much everything made by a human being has had to be drawn up by an artist at some point. So there are skills here for 
all our youngsters. It’s 
not just about painting pictures, or creating sculptures, you’ve got designers, technicians, engineers and architects 
and they all require the 
ability to draw.”

Which brings him back 
to one of his favourite mantras – art for all.

“How many working class people feel comfortable going into an art gallery? Most of them would probably say, ‘I know nowt about it, I won’t go in.’ But art should be for everybody and that’s why we’re taking art to the people.”

Ultimately, though, artists have to please themselves.

“It’s like Rudolph Nureyev said, ‘if you dance for the audience, you’ll never dance for yourself. Dance for yourself and the audience will love you.’”

Ibbeson nods in agreement. “You don’t make art for approval, you have to do it for yourself, and it’s perhaps taken me a while to break down that barrier.

“But my attitude is ‘right, I’m going to do exactly what I want and make the statements I want and I don’t need your approval’... although I daren’t say that to anyone in Barnsley,” he says, laughing.

Opposites Attract, opens at Cusworth Hall, Doncaster, tomorrow and runs to June 2, 2013. On October 14, both artists are holding a free “Big Draw” art event at the hall where people can come along and get a tutorial from them. For more information call 01302 782342 or visit

The painter and the sculptor

Ashley Jackson opened his first Gallery at Dodworth, near Barnsley, in 1963.

His evocative watercolour paintings of his beloved Moors have become synonymous with Yorkshire and his works have been seen all over the world.

A Brush with Ashley, his popular TV series, ran for nearly 10 years.

Graham Ibbeson graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1978 since when he has exhibited extensively in Europe and the USA.

He has produced public portraits of Eric Morecambe, Laurel and Hardy and Fred Trueman. His work can be found in more than 30 towns and cities up and down the country.