JOHN Thompson, who has died at the age of 87, was a mainly self-taught artist who became exceptionally well known for his paintings of anonymous groups of men in flat caps standing in various poses – looming, loitering, parading and talking.
Though his style was quite different to that of L S Lowry, his paintings caused him to be compared to the great man and other major northern artists such as Theodore Major and Harold Riley.
John’s background was a humble one, coming from a working class family in Oldham where he was expected to leave school and get a job as soon as he was able.
He worked in various trades and began making paintings while working in a furniture store to improve the room display.
Five years of life drawing at an evening class provided him with the opportunity to extend his skills, but it was not till the age of 56 that he became a full-time artist. Things didn’t start off well there. At a studio in the Corn Exchange in Manchester, he raised only enough cash to keep his Calor Gas heater going.
Not to be put off, he took space in the former Alexandra Centre in Uppermill which was to mark the beginning of his success and he built up a loyal following there, though he could not have known that one day his work would sell for up to £12,500.
John’s output was highly eclectic, drawing ideas from many different subjects. But his central theme was that of groups of working men, standing around waiting. But waiting for what?
Waiting for a job, waiting for a handout, or perhaps just waiting for a change of fortune.
The strength of his work was to raise the imagination of the viewer – to let him or her read into the painting and find their own interpretation or just to leave an air of mystery at times.
A prolific artist, over the years John created thousands of these ‘Group Series’ paintings and there was a sense that these northern working-class men stood for all working men, at all times and in different circumstances. The variety of styles and the way the subject matter was handled were also prolific.
Over the last few years, John’s work has been widely collected both at home and abroad. Major exhibitions of his paintings have been held in Manchester, London, Falmouth, Burford and Hale.
He has been featured on television – Channel 4 and Granada – and in 2002 three of his paintings were purchased by the House of Lords and are now hanging in the committee rooms there.
A book on his life and work, John Thompson – Do you like ‘em then? was published in 2006 and became a best-seller.
Quite a number of people from the Huddersfield area, myself included, met John in his time in Uppermill, and his book is on sale at the AC Gallery in Huddersfield. He was a great character and talker and there will be regret at his passing.
o WITH a few more results still to come, Holmfirth Artweek officers are delighted to say that this year’s profit for Macmillan Cancer Support will exceed last year’s total of £34,000.
“We are already up to £34,500 and I would think there is about another £500 to come in,” says treasurer Bob Riley.
He described the result as “marvellous” in the light of the current financial scene. “It was better than we could have hoped for,” he added. “Every year we keep wondering how things will go, but we are very pleased with the way everything has come together this year and would like to thank exhibitors, visitors and at least 500 volunteers who tackle such a wide range of jobs.”
Mr Riley said the number of fringe shows this time – 34 – was a record and a lot of people had tried to see as many of them as possible.
“Usually, the fringe shows bring in about £4,000 but this year it looks as if it will be nearer £5,000, a record figure,” he added.