A POWERFUL VISIONARY QUALITY that transforms the way we see familiar objects and places – That’s the hallmark of many great artists, and one that is clear to be seen in the drawings and paintings of Trevor Grimshaw.
Towns set in smoky valleys, murky canals, basins and ponds, railway viaducts, signals and telegraph poles, railway bridges with steam trains emerging from the fog, vast rutted areas of black earth and waste ground with the sky reflected in puddles, factory chimneys pouring smoke into a heavy atmosphere that hangs above the scene.
As you look into the pictures you can almost hear the whistle of the factory hooter, the huffing and puffing of a distant steam train, and feel the cold clammy air on your skin. The pictures capture the feeling of walking to the factory on a cold winters morning many years ago, and stopping to look out over the dismal grey townscape that is your home.
I only found out about Trevor Grimshaw in 2001 when I read an article in the Manchester Evening News about the artist’s untimely death due to a fire at his home in Hyde. Some of his pictures were reproduced in the paper, and even at small size, I was captivated by them.
They seemed to capture the essence of how I remember the north of England as a child growing up in Stockport, an atmosphere that seems far removed from the world we live in today. Most people found the industrial north ugly, depressing and certainly not the sort of thing you would want hanging up on your living room wall.
Only a small number of artists turned their attention to this subject matter and found beauty in it. Trevor Grimshaw is foremost among them and has probably left us the clearest and most powerful impression of how our towns and cities looked until not that long ago.
It’s a personal and stylised vision. Most places are not recognisable, and in those that are, for example the picture of Stockport, the elements have been rearranged, such that the church appears on the wrong side of the viaduct, as in a mirror image.
In the ‘railway journey from Hyde to Manchester’ series of pictures, which takes up half a wall of the gallery, there are no recognisable landmarks. The city centre has an anonymous yet familiar appearance.
It’s as if the memory of your home town has been wiped clean and you are arriving in it again for the first time, discovering it afresh.
In all Trevor Grimshaw’s pictures, elements are carefully placed with more of an eye for balance and composition than for factual accuracy. Often the perspective is distorted, playing tricks with the eyes and making the steam train appear as if it is about to take off.`
The paradox of Trevor Grimshaw’s work is that although his is a personal, stylised and selective vision, it is a more truthful rendering of what the north used to be like than many a photograph. That’s the power of the painter or illustrator, who can draw on the imagination in a way that’s more difficult with photography, though it’s getting easier with digital imaging.
Trevor Grimshaw had some high profile admirers – Edward Heath and LS Lowry bought his pictures in the 1970’s, as well as many collectors and gallery owners, including Colin Jellicoe. But since then, his work – like the industrial landscape he depicted – disappeared from view and was apparently forgotten.
Message received Friday 6 August 2010
Fascinated by your website. I lived and grew up in Stockport for the first twenty odd years of my life. I knew Edgeley very well then, the Armoury pub still lingers in my mind. Your finished image of the church spire and chimneys taken in November 2009 is very evocative of Trevor’s work.
I attended Stockport College of Art at the same time as Trevor and knew him very well as did a lot of people. We did at some time have a few beers together over the years.
A group of us including Trevor held an exhibition of steam trains and railway images in 1974 at a gallery in Portland Street in Manchester. I still have the invite and catalogue.
Through the years I worked in graphics starting in Manchester agencies and studios. Gradually got into digital imaging. Even from low end digital cameras you can rescue and manipulate anything in Photoshop which is an excellent piece of software. The last five years I was providing all digital imaging for students at the local art college from neg scanning to large format inkjet.
My lasting memory of Trevor was he gave me a publication of prints of his works in 1973. Entitled ‘Townscape’ it was published then in conjuction with The North West Arts Association. I only found out fairly recently of his death in 2001.
I moved away from the north and now live in Devon. ‘You can take the boy out of Manchester but you can’t take Manchester out of the boy’ but I was there last week visiting my daughter and finally got to see the Lowry Gallery at Salford keys.
Sorry to rabbit on but to share a moment in connection with Trevor is an honour.
hodgkinson194 at btinternet dot com
Born Mancunian and Stopfordian
Thanks for your message! It’s great to hear from someone who knew Trevor Grimshaw. And also to hear about your work with art and photography. I have a copy of Townscape which I bought on eBay a few years ago. It seems people have forgotten about the stark and evocative appearance of the North as it used to be! And they don’t seem to have much respect for what remains of this heritage, knocking worthy buildings down and fitting uPVC windows into Victorian houses!
I wish I had got to meet him and I could have done but I only got to hear about him after reading the piece in the MEN about the fire and his death. If only he had got a little bit of publicity while he was alive I would probably have met and interviewed him.