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Gordon Liddle - Old Master of the Modern Age!

Posted Sunday, July 1, 2007

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Gordon Liddle - `Old Master’ of the Modern Age

`most valuable private collection of art treasures and paintings in the world'

Accumulated over the 450-year period of it’s history, Chatsworth House is acknowledged as having one of the greatest and most valuable private collections of art treasures and paintings – including numerous `Old Masters’ - in the world.

His Grace Andrew Cavendish, the late 11th Duke of Devonshire, like many of his predecessors, was a renowned connoisseur, collector and very popular patron of the arts who added considerably to the collection during his lifetime, and amongst the Rembrandts, Landseers, Renoirs, Gainsboroughs etc on display at Derbyshire’s `Palace of the Peak is – a Liddle!

`the last painting purchased by the Duke in June 2003'

`Madonna # 1 Victorian Mood’ by Shuttlewood-based painter Gordon Liddle hangs in the West Gallery at Chatsworth, and was the last painting purchased by the Duke in June 2003.

“The Duke had obviously enjoyed the painting and wrote me a very nice letter to say so” said Gordon. He Continued:

“The Duke had an excellent knowledge of art history and in particular of painting a traditional subject in the manner of the time, and was interested in purchasing this painting on his first visit to the studio. In fact, I was to write to him when the Leda painting was finished and ready for sale, but sadly this was not to be. However, he did give me a mention in his book, `Accidents of Fortune’ for which I am very grateful”.

The book was published posthumously, and in it the Duke writes with reference to the painting `Madonna#1 Victorian Mood’:

`…’s by an unknown Chesterfield artist called Gordon Liddle, who deserves to make a name for himself…’ – a high recommendation indeed!

So just who is this `unknown Chesterfield artist called Gordon Liddle’?

We met, surrounded by massive canvasses representing work in various stages of development; the whole lit by twenty four skylights set into the flat roof of a large, spacious and excellently equipped studio, which Gordon informed me – was a former piggery! He and wife Joan, the model for his Madonna paintings, purchased three acres of land within sight of Bolsover Castle five years ago, and the former farm now provides them with home, studio, and a large, part-landscaped garden, which Gordon admits is `still under construction’.

Gordon has travelled widely, and an afternoon spent in his company made it apparent that he is a profound thinker possessed of an agile and fertile brain, with a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of figurative painting, and the method of the `Old Masters’ – and is certainly by far the most original artist I’ve encountered in this series.

Gordon was born in Horden, County Durham, educated at Hartlepool Grammar School, and following a one year foundation course at Hartlepool College of Art, went on to Sheffield College of Art in 1975 (later Sheffield Hallam University) and left in 1979 with a Fine Arts Degree.

“My childhood in a northern mining village was completely oblivious of religion, race or creed. I never went to church. I never heard it discussed.

I never went to a gallery or exhibition until I was seventeen years old, and I never saw an oil painting (in the flesh) until I created my own, and neither existentialism or any other theory ever occupied a brain cell. I had a very happy childhood, which was poor but not deprived, mainly because I wasn’t aware of anything much of which to be deprived”.

What about early artistic influences?

“I never talked to anyone about art at the time because it wasn’t something discussed in a small mining village. My grandad was a lovely sketcher and I remember a story of him drawing with a piece of coal on the floor of the pit baths and the guys coming through leaving it on the floor for weeks, carefully stepping around to stop it being washed away. I reckon the bit in his genes that made me want to paint tumbled down from Mum to me! I obtained my degree in the belief that I would be a painter directly from college and thereafter it would be my occupation, however, reaction to my early work filled me with self-doubt, and I didn’t paint for ten years after leaving college”.

Gordon learned carpentry & joinery and became a shop-fitter, working with his father-in-law in the construction industry in the Sheffield area for a number of years, painting and sketching only when time allowed.

In the mid-nineties he worked abroad, travelling through America and `many other lands’ before settling in the Yemen, where he spent several years working on an island tourism project off the Red Sea coast.

“I loved being in Arabia, he said, `but I was always glad to get home for a nice bacon sandwich. I’m always glad to get home”.

He was in Saudi Arabia on 9/11 when the Twin Towers went down, and investment in western projects dried up, so he was forced to abandon the tourist project and return to the UK with Joan, and thus, several years of globetrotting ended - at Shuttlewood!

Since then, in-between providing and fitting-out both living accommodation and studio, Gordon has worked extensively on his Madonna series; there are twenty paintings altogether, with two completed and five others in progress.

He explains:

“I’ve always been interested in politics, the environment, historical and current events, and find history and art traditions a great source of inspiration, and the series of works to which my Madonna paintings belong is derived from the Western tradition of ecclesistical art.

My work is figurative and if I had to list painting influences I’d include Stanley Spencer, Vermeer, Hogarth, Holman-Hunt, Joseph Wright of Derby, Bruegel, Rembrandt, Otto Dix and others, but an influence or appreciation doesn’t necessarily have to lend itself to any similarities or pastiche. For instance how could any painter who loves paint not be moved by Van Gogh, Titian, Freud or Degas? Yet I don’t paint like any of them!”.

Gordon doesn’t like being called an artist:

“Nowadays everyone is an `artist’, pop stars, soap celebrities, reality tv contestants, magicians, so I prefer the word `Painter’! It’s much more down to earth and much less pretentious. I have always seen painting as a means of exploration, analysing and projecting an object, emotion, or situation, or as a way of conveying a story, no matter how small a snippet or how muddled.

My paintings are large and if you take a close look, quite abstract in the application of individual areas. It’s such a satisfying feeling to get paint to run or accumulate in the way you want it to, and it’s even better if it surprises you with a finish you weren’t expecting. I build up layers of paint and glazes all over the canvas, applying beeswax, various oils and varnishes to get the overall feel and tone of what I want, therefore some pictures have fifty to sixty layers of pigment, varnishes and oil. I think all areas of the canvas have to relate to each other and it’s just as important to treat a small section of wall with as much care as the main subject, or all is thrown out of balance”.

It can take Gordon up to five years to complete a painting, and he says:

“Once I have a painting underway it tends to be worked and reworked, progressing slowly from the original idea and whilst one dries or cures, I simultaneously work on numerous others. The composition and content are like shifting sands until the final varnish is applied.

I want to create a visual image that draws the viewer into the painting without losing their interest after a few seconds. Colour and composition need to have as much substance as the circumstances giving rise to the picture and vice-versa so that the painting has to be crafted within the limits of the canvas, to be a point separated from everything around it. This is why I always finish my paintings with a black broad frame, some are even painted from day one within the boundary of this separating black band. It’s almost as if I’m worrying that the idea will escape from the canvas, or I can’t hold on to the process without it being ring fenced”.

The `ring fencing’ contains massive canvasses, the largest being `Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ 360cm x 240cm (10ft x 5ft), and only slightly smaller is `Plasterer#Egyptian Background’ at 340cm x 220cm, whilst the three completed paintings in the Madonna series, Madonna#1 Victorian Mood, Madonna/Magdeline#2 (The Rite) and Madonna#4 (Leda) are all around 170cm x 140cm, and Gordon has a five year plan in operation to finish the series and launch a major exhibition at a London gallery.

One of his smaller paintings `Narcissus’ was recently auctioned in aid of the Kashmir Earthquake Relief Fund, and raised around £1500 when purchased by a firm of local Chesterfield architects.

Gordon says: “I love the story of Narcissus and Echo as narrated by Ovid, but didn’t feel the need to paint in a figure to embody the loneliness of this affliction, so I left the flowers against a very bare, forlorn background to convey his sense of loss and self obsession. The paint is very thin and the background was placed with a dry rag”.

He added, philosophically,

“It’s pleasant to think that a picture about narcissistic obsession should be sold to feed and house a tragic group of people thrown on desperate times through no fault of their own.”

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