‘Painting: Figures Underground and Imagined’

by According to McGee | York
Date of event: 06/04/19 - 27/04/19

‘Painting: Figures Underground and Imagined’ is an exhibition that features figurative art from painters looking at the subject from two very different angles. Ex-miner Harry Malkin’s depictions of miners working one mile underground are instantly authentic, with the flex of half lit muscles against starkly lit black walls so realistic the paintings could only come from an artist who has experienced the real thing. Dave Pearson’s portraits of fragmented faces, floating up through thick, vivid brushstrokes, indicate the artist’s relentless imagination, where memory, ancient customs, and mask like expressions merge to produce some of his most idiosyncratic, haunting, and collectible work. 

Harry Malkin is one of the UK’s most important painters. His experiences as a miner inform his expertly composed depictions of life underground, where backs ache, lungs fill with dust and where teamwork and generations of hard-won skill can safeguard against constant danger. He learned to draw when his father came back from the pit and young Harry made marks on his soot stained back; he experienced political picketing and ultimate frustration with the strike of 1984; he finally found his way to the redemptive powers of art.

Harry Malkin died in 2008. He was eulogised in The Guardian as “a great example of an artist whose life was completely dedicated to serving the imagination”. Art critic Edward Lucie-Smith says of Pearson’s recent show at London’s Bermondsey’s ArtSpace, “It’s not often nowadays that a really major artist slips through the net. The show was an autobiography – one of the greatest composed by any 20th century British artist.”

Malkin’s first hand depictions are perfectly calibrated with the instinct and knowledge hewn from many decades’ worth of witnessing and working more than one mile deep underground. Increasingly collectible, Harry’s working life is being taken up with public art commissions, such historical footnotes as memorials for his own pit, Fryston Colliery, Bywater Colliery and the Methley Mining Memorial.
Dave Pearson, who died in 2008, at the age of 70, is widely held as one of the greatest artist of his generation: his obituaries in the Guardian and on BBC Radio 4 celebrated him as a 'great British painter' and 'the greatest painter we never knew', and art critic Edward Lucie Smith hailed him as 'a really major artist'.