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NORTHERN art, or what is increasingly being called the Northern School, is soaring in popularity as the price rises seen by artists such as L S Lowry, Alan Lowndes and Helen Bradley continue to tempt investors into the market.
Simple Lowry pencil drawings now routinely sell for over £50,000, while an Alan Lowndes St Ives picture which a few years ago could have been had for £20,000 recently went through auction for £66,000. Such eye-watering rises are already tempting the Cork Street galleries into the market.
Of course, art should always be bought for its wall appeal rather than its investment potential, but buying a picture you love and seeing it rocket in value is one of the pleasures of art collecting.
A new generation of northern artists has now emerged and out of the hundreds who are practicing, we look at some that we think will do rather well in the future.
Geoffrey Key (b1941)
One of the biggest names in northern art and deservedly so. A pupil of Harry Rutherford, he has since pursued his own style with remarkable determination. The style is established; a Geoffrey Key is instantly recognizable.
First impressions of Geoffrey Key’s work reveal confidence, dedication, purpose and sincerity. More exciting than Braque and placing Picasso in time perspective, he conveys a classical quality with no question of imitation. His images are uncompromisingly commanding and he has a penetrating vision, which allows him to strip away the facades and expose the true meaning of his subject.
He is also hugely popular and his prices reflect this. Recently joined the London gallery of Messums and his prices at auction continue to break records year after year. Price range (£1,000 – £25,000)
Harold Riley (1934)
A student of Lowry and, some would argue, his appointed successor. A talented footballer in his youth – he was once on the books of Man United – has spent the later part of his career painting commissioned portraits of some of the most famous men in the world, including Nelson Mandela. In something of a dual career, Riley is famous worldwide for his sporting pictures, particularly of golf and soccer. His golf images are in private and public collections throughout the world
Technically, very good – as one would expect from a Slade-trained artist, it is his early Salford and Manchester pictures which are creating all the investment excitement. Has recently being buying up his own work whenever it comes up at auction. A Charitable Trust has been set up called The Riley Educational Foundation, to look after his life’s work. (£1,000-£30,000)
Ghislaine Howard (1953)
Perhaps the region’s most famous international artist – she is currently on a lecture tour of Australia, Howard is represented by galleries in Hale,Lymm, Lancashire and London. She is tackling important subjects with astonishing bravado and yet she is selling for barely more than second-rate painters trotting out endless stick figures walking beneath Stockport Viaduct.
The Glossop-based artist is firmly within the classical tradition and her expressive and painterly style follows closely in the footsteps of Degas and Walter Sickert. Her works can be found hanging in the Whitworth and the Royal Collection and she has been shown at the Imperial War Museum and the British Museum. (£275-£5,000)
Ben Kelly (1974)
The Kerridge-based phenomenon that is Ben Kelly, an artist who sells out most of his exhibitions before they open. His pictures are happy, colourful and amusing, but many carry underlying social messages. He has been described by Dr Rina Arya, one of country’s leading art critics, as following in the footsteps of Lowry in celebrating the everydayness of life, people carrying out their daily rituals and routines, without wishing or needing to be noticed.
His work looks at interaction within the fabric of landscape, presenting attractive and thought-provoking narratives.His 2014 show Looters And Other Stories which took a look at the Manchester riots was particularly impressive. (£600-£10,000)
Helen Clapcott (1952)
Another Macclesfield artist, Helen Clapcott is known for her obsessive paintings of a particular industrial valley in Stockport, concentrating on the changes that have taken place in its urban identity. Trained at Liverpool and the Royal Academy, her small paintings are masterpieces of the changing patterns of light.
One of a very few modern artists working in tempera – egg-based emulsion painted on panels prepared with gesso, a smooth surface like plaster of Paris. This technique, favoured by artists from ancient times until the 15th century, means she can erase scenes and re-work them in the cause of perfection.
One prominent North West dealer believes that she is the one and only heir of Lowry.
Liam Spencer (1964)
Once the boy wonder of Northern art – his work was chosen to open the Lowry Centre – he was one of the first to see the beauty in Victorian red brick – an idea that has now been borrowed by numerous artists. Seemed to go off the boil and lost the tighly controlled fluidity that is a mark of his best work, but over the last two years showing a welcome return to form, including a hugely successful show in Cheshire.
Another problem was that his prices were driven too high, too quickly by speculators, nothing to do with the artist. They have since dropped back and once again are being seen as investments. One of the region’s most talented artists. (£2,000-£15,000)
Michael Ashcroft (1969)
Lancashire painter of landscapes, essentially self taught but technically extraordinary good. If he continues to progress will undoubtedly become the region’s best painter of northern landscapes. Has won a host of awards, including the Royal Society of British Artists 2014 and was recently shortlisted for the prestigious New English Art Club awards. (£600-£3,000).
Steve Capper (1944)
You’ll love or loath the brightly coloured almost surreal landscapes of this Oldham based painter, but there is no doubting that a Capper is a Capper. Recently picked up by a London gallery both his still lifes and landscapes are firmly within the European expressionist tradition, yet are also unmistakably northern.
Ian Mood (1973)
Derbyshire landscape artists whose moody studies of hills and clouds are winning increasing plaudits. Studied Fine Art at the University of the West of England, Bristol, and divides his time between his home just outside of Manchester and the US. His work features amongst collections in New York and Cape Cod. He is a member of the Artists’ Association of Nantucket where he was awarded the Frank Swift Chase Plein Air Award 2014.(£200-£1500)
Richard Fitton (1990)
Exciting new arrival on the market. Originally from Oldham, he studied for a Fine Art degree at Loughborough University, and while there was accepted into the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, the youngest to have been admitted in 150 years. Trademark style is thick paint and compositionl boldness. Born 50 years ago, he would have been a member of Bratby’s kitchen Sink school. (£600-£2,500)
Jake Attree (1950)
Yorkshire-based painter of the Auerbach school, Jake Attree is a figurative artist in the sense that everything he paints is based on something he has observed and drawn. Had numerous exhibitions at home and abroad and is represented by Messums of London. (£1,000 – £8,000)
Reg Gardner (1948)
Seems to have been around for ever, but in reality it is only in the last decade that the undoubted quality of his work and the purely impressionistic rendering of Manchester’s landscape have become highly collectable. This has seen his prices start to rise sharply and his paintings of the Manchester Ship Canal are snapped up while they are still wet. (£900-£3,000).
Steven Bewsher (1964)
Another Macclesfield entrant. The artist’s early career was spent painting pleasant pictures of local buildings and canals, but in recent years has emerged as oner of the few artists capable of rendering the changing landscape of the North West in an entirely original way. You think demolition can not be beautiful? You have not seen a Bewsher.(£250-£1,5000).
Stephen Campbell (1985)
Salford artist who spent time studying and painting in Barcelona and around Poland, working with various artist groups, before returning to Britain.Best known for his use of distorted perspectives to give the paintings a fresh, new feel. (£700-£2,000).