Joan Walley to open major exhibition of Arthur Berry’s painting at the Foxlowe

Berry painting

The Arthur Berry exhibition will be formally launched on the preview evening, Friday 30th September, 7 pm. by the former long-serving MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, Joan Walley, who continues to be closely associated with Burslem through her chairmanship of the Burslem Regeneration Trust.

As word spreads there is mounting interest and considerable excitement developing not only in Leek and the Staffordshire Moorlands, but regionally too about the forthcoming exhibition of paintings by the Potteries painter, Arthur Berry (1925-1994) at Leek’s Foxlowe Arts Centre in partnership with Barewall Gallery, Burslem.

Arthur Berry was a Potteries man through and through and his work is steeped in the soot-speckled grimy air of the Potteries and its people. Berry said: “There’s a landscape in every backyard wall; in every brick, in every face.” He certainly knew every inch of his beloved Burslem.

It could be argued that all paintings are the product of a painter’s experience, but Arthur Berry is exemplary in producing work steeped in the Potteries and its people. He transmits the grime, the hardship, the exhaustion, of a people immersed in coal mining, iron-ore smelting and grafting with clay to produce ceramics for the mansion as well as the mass-market.

arthur berry

Arthur Berry

Deep beneath the grime of the lives of the workers, skill, commitment and creativity sparked and fired the energy of the packed together industries with their catchment areas of endless rows of workers’ terraced houses, liberally served by numerous pubs.

Born during the depression in 1925, of working class parents, he escaped the drudgery of manual labour because Berry was born with a crippled arm. His talent for drawing was such that he was accepted at the age of fourteen by Burslem College of Art, moving on to the Royal College of Art, but once completed, he returned to the Potteries, to his beloved Burslem, where he taught until 1985 at Burslem College of Art, which became part of North Staffordshire Polytechnic. An inspirational and much loved teacher, a ‘larger than life’ figure, he spoke, wrote, painted and breathed the soot-speckled grimy air of the Potteries throughout his life.

Berry has often been referred to as the “Lowry of the Potteries”. He greatly admired Lowry’s work but at the same time he was clear about their difference. “The little Lancashire lad wasn’t the Potteries potter; the mills that Lowry painted had an elegance that the fat pottery kilns didn’t, and I felt that Mr Lowry had pushed his world into the middle distance and made a panorama of it, whereas the expression of the private personal life of the people in my pictures was more important to me.”

As Berry said of his portraits “twisted and worn into strange shapes by hard work and poverty” they are close-up, more often than not without urban landscape settings. Berry’s creativity embraced the written and spoken word in poetry, anecdote and plays. Each of his six plays, based on the lives and characters of people around him, was produced by Peter Cheeseman, director of the Stoke-on-Trent Victoria Theatre.

He wished “to capture the people of the old working class of Stoke, a type of person who no longer exists” as the values that held the working class together were slowly eroded. These sentiments he expressed throughout his painting, poetry and writing. His monologue Lament for the Lost Pubs of Burslem won the Sony/Pye Award for the best radio monologue in 1979.

Leslie Duxbury concluded his obituary of Berry in The Independent, July 1994 thus: “Although vastly different, there is a similarity to that other lonely painter, LS Lowry, whom he greatly admired. Lowry’s recognition came late in his life, Arthur Berry’s has yet to come. But come it surely will.” In the two decades since that was written, Arthur Berry’s recognition is increasingly being realized.

ST40 barewall logo

We are much indebted to Amanda Bromley of the Bare Wall Gallery, Burslem, for inviting us to host this exhibition of Arthur Berry’s works, an opportunity to view what he saw as ‘… the most eloquent utterances, portraits of a world seen from the bottom of my rut…’ observations of the work of a man, who saw beauty in the ugly, and who recognised that “Love is also often held in silence and sometimes you don’t know it’s been there till it’s gone.”

Professor Ray Johnson will present two evenings of DVDs he has compiled, featuring Berry in his own words at 7.30pm, on Thursday 8th and Friday 16th September and on Sunday 2nd October as part of the North Staffs LIVE AGE FESTIVAL.

Also from Staffordshire University, Dr Catherine Burgass will be talking about Berry’s work in the Gallery during the evening of Friday 7th October at 7.30pm.

The exhibition runs from Saturday 1st October until Saturday 12th November 2016.

The Gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday 10.00-4.00 and Sundays 2nd October and 6th November 11.00-4.00.