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Home is where the heart is

David Mulholland’s images are a moving tribute to the working-class communities of his native Teesside, says MIKE QUILLE

Home

Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar

5 Stars

APART from the pages of this paper and arts magazines like The Jackdaw, the work of artist David Mulholland has had little critical recognition.

There are reasons for that.

Mulholland, who died in 2005 at the age of 59, was from the Teesside community South Bank which until the 1980s was packed with steel mills, furnaces, dockyards and railway sidings.

Although he trained in London, Mulholland returned to the area and nearly all his paintings are of people and places in Teesside and the surrounding countryside.

Now, a cause for celebration, there’s a new exhibition of his work — most of which has not been seen before — at the Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar which follows on from a major retrospective held last year in Middlesbrough.

It’s well worth a visit. Mulholland was an extremely talented artist, skilled in many different techniques.

On display are pencil, charcoal and chalk drawings, watercolours, pastel and crayon works and paintings in acrylics and oils.

The exhibition’s title “Home” provides the common thread.

Like Norman Cornish, Mulholland paints a world which is local, “ordinary” and known, a world of brutally hard work and suffering but one which is appreciated with tenderness and compassion.

There are several carefully composed and meticulously executed paintings of the surrounding countryside and coast along with works containing a clear political message.

Thanks For Nothing (1985) depicts an unemployed man seated in front of a graveyard of crosses marked with occupations such as miner, labourer, cast furnaceman and builder.

He stares glumly at us while a caricatured Margaret Thatcher resolutely keeps her fingers in her ears.

There is a deftly shaped clay sculpture At The Dentist’s.

And there are paintings of local people, at work, at home, in the pub and betting shop.

It’s an aesthetically and technically interesting exhibition but it’s also a document of social history and of the authentic emotional response of an artist to the decay and decline of the community around him.

It’s a homage and hymn to neighbours, workers, streets and factories and to the pubs and workers’ cafes of South Bank and Grangetown.

As someone has written in the exhibition’s visitors’ book: “The paintings seem dark but the head that produced them holds the light.”

There are probably several David Mulhollands near you, undiscovered or forgotten by an art world which, like so much of the official, state-sponsored culture of modern capitalism, tends to focus on the brand new, the celebrity and the internationally fashionable.

That’s perhaps why you haven’t heard of him. Visit this exhibition if you can — or seek out and support its equivalent near where you live.

The exhibition, which is free, runs until June 22. Details: www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk/museums.

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