An exhibition opening at Brooksbank School in Elland on January 20 is showcasing both the work of talented sixth form students and two of Yorkshire’s celebrated professional artists – David Blackburn, who was recently named in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, and figurative painter Jake Attree.
The unique collaboration has come about following a ‘work-in-progress’ project between Attree, leading London gallery Messum’s and the school’s art department.
Entitled The Elemental North, the exhibition at Brooksbank – open until January 31 – will be held simultaneously with a show of the same name in Messum’s, which has curated a selection of Huddersfield-born Blackburn’s pastels and Calderdale-based Attree’s oil paintings.
Brooksbank headteacher Kevin McCallion says that despite national drives in education to promote science and technology above the arts, the school remains committed to promoting and expanding its arts programmes.
More than an exhibition, this show will also give students the chance to experience every facet involved in promoting and selling art.
In a foreword to the Brooksbank exhibition he writes: “In our experience the arts produce confident, self-disciplined, creative, flexible and innovative youngsters who work well in teams and are able to express their ideas using a wide range of strategies: exactly the sort of people with whom employers tell us they would eagerly engage.”
Both exhibitions celebrate the influence of Yorkshire’s landscapes on art. Blackburn’s abstract, atmospheric works contrast with Attree’s representational paintings.
The Elland show, however, also features student work on a variety of themes and in different media, including photography, and highlights the creative activity in the school’s new arthaus centre for sixth form arts.
Attree, who has a studio in Dean Clough, Halifax, has spent the past six months producing a large-scale quadriptych image of Brooksbank. The work, commissioned by the school, is a substantial 8ft by 12ft and is now hanging in the arthaus.
The project arose from a visit to Messum’s in London by Brooksbrank head Mr McCallion, who saw an opportunity to engage students with the world of fine art.
Not only were the school’s young artists given the opportunity to watch a professional artist at work, but they were also involved in setting up the current exhibition and will be able to sell their work.
Attree says he was bowled over by his time in the school: “There’s an awful lot of bad news around at the moment, but this is a good news story. There are some wonderful young people in our schools. They were polite, interested and very talented. We can be hopeful for the future.”
He approves of the school’s ethos in teaching drawing as a fundamental skill, and says: “For me, drawing is the grammar of visual language; it is the way I explain the world to myself. It is both an obsession and a compulsion. We have been drawing – or something very like it – since the time of the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira. Drawing, like all creative activity, is not an entertainment or pastime, but rather something fundamental to our psychic health as a species.”
Among the sixth formers showing is former Year 13 student Hannah Kelly, who has also had her work chosen for the National Students’ Art Exhibition in the Mall Galleries, London. She found inspiration in watching Jake at work developing his painting of the school.
Works in The Elemental North can be viewed in the Brooksbank arthaus.