Woodhorn Museum/Narbi Price (2018)

Untitled Puddle Painting (The Hole), 2017 by Narbi Price
Untitled Puddle Painting (The Hole), 2017           © Narbi Price

A grant of £1,500 was awarded to the Woodhorn Museum, Museums Northumberland Collection, for the acquisition of the above acrylic on board painting, measuring 50cm x 70cm.

The painting is photorealistic in style and from a distance looks like a photograph, but when viewed more closely it is clearly a painting and one which conveys real feelings.  ‘The Hole’ refers to the infamous ‘Ashington Hole’, a site in Ashington earmarked for re-development, years after its once thriving coal mine was closed (in 1988).  The plan was abandoned after control of the Council changed, and the money went elsewhere. The site was left empty for many months, and became a source of frustration, protest and concern for residents. Narbi noted that during his many visits to the town, from 2015 on, he saw ‘The Hole’ undergo various stages of evolution, baked dry, filled with mud, and latterly obscured by heavy metal hoardings.

The painting represents a local place with a complex history of community, loss of identity and major economic change. The last pit in the area closed in the late 1980s, leaving Ashington in flux: no longer the Biggest Mining Village in the world; no longer any mining, no longer a village, and there is literally a hole in the centre of the town. The painting can thus be viewed as a meditation on people and places being overlooked and left behind, and represents a way of engaging with audiences who feel the same way.

This painting is one in a series of 30 works painted for ‘The Ashington Paintings’ exhibition, held at Woodhorn Museum in 2018. The idea for the exhibition came from Narbi’s study of the work and painting techniques of the ‘Ashington Group’, also known as the ‘Pitmen Painters’. These artists came from a working-class background and were largely self-taught. Over some 50 years (1934-1984) they produced unparalleled British ‘folk art’, depicting everyday life in the North East. Many had worked as miners in the collieries of Ashington and the surrounding area, and lived to see the industry they had documented, and the very reason for Ashington’s existence, taken away, making their artwork all the more poignant.

However, the paintings are not about the ‘Ashington Group’, but are the product of many hours spent walking the streets of Ashington, at times in the footsteps of the ‘Ashington Group’, through a changed landscape they would have barely recognised, but in a socio-political climate that increasingly they might have. Narbi referred to “… an oddness in standing on a clean, perfect road in a business park, armed with the knowledge that you’re in the middle of a vast colliery, or in watching swans glide over a lake knowing that you’re on the site of the one-time biggest slag heap in Europe.” ‘Untitled Puddle Painting (The Hole)’ and the other paintings are as much, if not more, about the ghosts of Ashington as they are about the town today.