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Painting of a miner underground with a drill

Norman Cornish - The Early Years

The story of Norman Cornish’s prodigious career as an artist who converted his experience as a miner into compelling imagery has become justly famous. As the mining industry recedes into history though the real context of his life and art grow ever more elusive.

Feb 14th to March 16th 2012, Kings Place Gallery, London

Underground With Drill

The story of Norman Cornish’s prodigious career as an artist who converted his experience as a miner into compelling imagery has become justly famous. As the mining industry recedes into history though the real context of his life and art grow ever more elusive. At the time of his birth in 1919 the average death rate in British pits was an annual 1.3 per thousand miners. By the time he started work at the age of 14 technological advances had reduced that figure to 0.75 per thousand but that is to ignore the many accidents.  Indeed the Spennymoor pit at which he started his working life, the Dean and Chapter Colliery, was notorious enough locally to be known as ‘The Butcher’s Shop’.

Describing in his autobiography his descent to the coal-face on his first day at work, Cornish recalled that he, “was to learn that the dangers of gas, stone falls, the darkness and the restricted space, were all to shape these men into industrial gladiators.”

For the next 33 years, Cornish recorded the life of the pit where his ‘marras’ risked their lives every day. He depicted them in the claustrophobic space of the seams or tending pit ponies but of course, his “narrow world” as the novelist Sid Chaplin admiringly called it included that network of customs and shared experiences that bind a community together. In his scenes of their ‘civilian’ life, miners are shown walking to work in the early dawn, the pit head gantry resembling another Calvary. As for his repertoire of pub interiors, they are, of course, bathed in an amber glow, the colour of brown ale, while the local fish van also looms large as a communal meeting point – for gossip as much as for food.



Opening Times:
Monday - Friday 10 am - 6 pm
Saturday - Sunday 12 am - 6 pm
Admission free



Telephone
020 7520 1485