Art in the Gardens celebrates two of Sheffield’s most-loved artists
In the month of what would have been George Cunningham’s 95th birthday, the art community is coming together to celebrate one of Sheffield’s most recognisable artists.
On the weekend of 7 –8 September, an event in the Botanical Gardens will celebrate two of Sheffield’s most-loved artists. Amongst many others, the works of George Cunningham and Joe Scarborough will be on display at Art in the Gardens – an event taking place just a few minutes’ walk away from where the former grew up.
It’ll be a few days shy of what would have been George’s 95th birthday, an artist and painter so influential and revered around the UK, these types of celebrations of his work have been common place both during his formative years and since he passed in 1996. “When George kind of got in there first along with Lowry in Manchester,” Steve, a close friend of George, told us. “A lot of people were influenced and inspired by him. Bill Kirby, Terry Gorman – people like that were heavily influenced by George.”
Steve Earnshaw worked with George at a workshop on Rockingham Street, where George painted and Steve framed his work, to then be put out by the Hibbert Brothers – then a well-established art gallery in Sheffield and beyond. It was during these years that Steve got to know George. “He had his little studio on Rockingham Street in the city centre and I used to frame all of his works as he knocked them out, as it were. That’s how I got to know him. He was a lovely, gentle man.
“He enjoyed life. He loved his walking, the outdoors and loved storytelling – he could tell a great story or two. I used to have a cup of tea or coffee with him in the morning and listen to his weekend antics! Where he’d been, sketching etc…But yeah a lovely, gentle guy – he was great to know and great to be with.”
This exhibition, set to be a world-first for some of the George Cunningham works on show, is an excellent opportunity to see some of his famous works in the flesh alongside one or two familiar faces. Ian Turner, the curator of the Art in the Gardens event, said: “We have a fantastic range of artists at the show, from seasoned professionals at the peak of their crafts, through to amateurs and beginner artists selling work for the very first time at the show! So it is with great excitement that we welcome Joe Scarborough back to Art in the Gardens alongside work of the equally famous George Cunningham!
“We were very privileged for Joe Scarborough to open the very first Art in the Gardens back in 2004. It is wonderful that Joe will be with us at the show, and an excellent opportunity for our visitors to invest in a Joe Scarborough or George Cunningham piece of art.”
It begs the question, what would George make of having his work exhibited to hundreds of people all these years later? “He’d be chuffed to bits for this exhibition,” Steve explains. “He’d take it in his stride. His works were very sought-after when he was alive, but he would love it and be level-headed about it.”
Despite his work becoming popular, notably his Church Street painting which shifted 250 prints over Christmas one year, he always remained modest. His gentle and humble personality perhaps traces back to the humble beginnings of his childhood, where he grew up in Broomhall and went to St. Silas C of E School. Writing in his book By George in 1987, George wrote: “In spite of all his efforts, my father came home in the late winter evenings tired and wet with very little money to put on the table. The fire in the grate grew smaller, so that we had to huddle near to it for warmth and a penny for the gas was hoarded until the last flickering minute.”
Asking Steve if he had any fond memories of his time spent with George, he elects to choose a a general feeling of pride that his friend “made it” with his art. “He was just happy and enjoyed life; he was great to be with. I think it would have been him making it in the art world. That would have been a great feeling for George and for everyone really. The popularity he created was phenomenal really, the exhibitions we had – people would be queuing and fighting over the original paintings.
“To answer your question, probably the fact that he made it.”
Art in the Gardens takes place between 7-8 September in the Botanical Gardens, a stone’s throw from where George grew up. For information on tickets, head to artinthegardens.com.
Images used at the discretion of the artists/archive owners.