The Industrial Narrative


Bobby Benjamin, Conner Shields, Craig Oldham, Faye Hadfield, Hannah Leighton-Boyce, Helen Pailing, Kraig Wilson, Mary Griffiths, Nicola Ellis, Theodore Major. 

28 March – 9 May 

As heavy industry declines in the North of England, an understanding of areas with strong industrial heritage and identity have often been distorted by a ‘fog’ of political discourse and ideology; a rhetoric that has often obfuscated much of the personality and atmosphere within its regions.

This exhibition contributes to the discussion through creative endeavour and viewpoints that may augment, or even subvert, a widely accepted narrative. Being an artist born in, or practicing, within these areas will inevitably prompt a reference to industrial heritage, albeit very often subconsciously.

The artists selected for ‘Major Conversations’ are connected to the North East and North West regions. They uncover a social reality and a lived experience within their work that runs alongside many other creative, intellectual, political or philosophical concerns.

Art and Industry have historically suffered an uneasy relationship since the Industrial Revolution due to the anxiety of certain eminent writers on art. John Ruskin famously feared that the ‘drawing styles encountered by workers were all industry and no art, dreamt up and imposed from without by enemies of creativity’.[i] His opinion that art should draw upon the beauty of nature rather than the ugliness of industry is subtly countered here in ‘Major Conversations’.

Some artists in this exhibition may well explore the notion of amalgamating both artistic and industrial environments, but essentially it is a sense of place, emotionally ingrained into the artists’ sensibilities, that emerges naturally within their creations: a cultural legacy that has inexorably embedded itself into their consciousness and subconsciously informed many artworks.

These contemporary artists are explored within the context of a 19th Century artist, Theodore Major; a Wigan painter whose practice concerned the social & visual impact of heavy industry at that time. By juxtaposing Major’s violent industrial dystopias with contemporary work, the exhibition aims to explore reciprocal narratives and inter-generational connections that increase our understanding of the relationship between industrial heritage and art practice.

The exhibition is the first stage of a touring project that will expand the number of artists involved when it travels from the North East to the North West of the U.K. to test and broaden the narrative. Conversations and experiences surrounding both the exhibition and the arranged seminar will enrich the next part of the project; an exhibition that will take place at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh in Feb-March 2020.


Cook, E.T. and Wedderburn. A, (eds.) (1903-1912). The Works of John Ruskin, New York: Longmans, Green. vol.15 p.344

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