From rightly celebrated individuals such as Norman Cornish and Tom McGuinness, through the ‘pitmen painter’ collectives of Ashington, in Northumberland, and Spennymoor, County Durham, there is a rich tradition of artists who have emerged from Britain’s coal mines.
Invariably growing up in families and communities lacking the financial resources, social connections or indeed, aspirations to turn a schoolboy talent for art into a career, most of the painters only realised their potential in later life. Sometimes this came about through the encouragement of an outside individual or organisation; sometimes a change in circumstances created an opportunity.
Carrying on the tradition
David Wilders is one of the last miner-turned-artists, carrying a baton which will inevitably be laid down for good before too many more years have elapsed. Starting work at Fryston Colliery in his hometown of Castleford after leaving school in 1976, he spent a decade there and in the Selby coalfield before an underground accident left him confined to a wheelchair. Although his particular change in circumstances was both sudden and traumatic, he began painting as part of his rehabilitation process, reigniting a flame which had lain dormant since his O-Level art days and subsequently leading him to experiment with many different media.
It is Wilders’ favoured technique – printing – which forms the majority of an exhibition of his recent works being staged at Queen’s Mill, in Castleford. The collection draws upon his experiences as a miner as well as the industrial landscape in which he grew up, featuring prints created through lino cutting and etching onto a range of materials, as well as elements of the painting which started his artistic journey.
Imagination and posterity
Unusually, the majority of his landscapes are imaginary, although anyone who knew the West Riding of Yorkshire in the years before its deindustrialisation will immediately recognise familiar elements in the winding gear and spoil heaps, mills and terrace houses, chimneys and cooling towers that characterise his work. Similarly, Wilders’ mining studies bring to vivid life and artistically record an industry which has now been reduced from everyday experience to memory – and before too long will survive only in museums and history books.
Life, Mining, Industry is on display at Queen’s Mill, Aire Street, Castleford, until Saturday 30 September. The exhibition is open from 11am to 3pm, Mondays to Saturdays, and entry is free. Wilders will be leading a number of printing workshops himself during the exhibition. More information at Life, Mining, Industry Exhibition by David Wilders at Queen’s Mill (experiencewakefield.co.uk) and Queen’s Mill Castleford | Castleford | Facebook.