One corner of the Biscuit Factory’s new Summer Show is dedicated to the work of Peter Flanagan, an artist who is still finding North East views to get his creative juices flowing.
That one of his newfound subjects is Cullercoats might surprise you.
The seaside village – still with something of a village feel despite its absorption into North Tyneside’s coastal sprawl – was, after all, home to a colony of accomplished artists up until the First World War.
The most famous was the American, Winslow Homer, who spent time there in 1881-2 revelling in the light, the landscapes and the people. It was said his spell in the North East revivified his career as an artist.
Speaking ahead of Friday’s Summer Show opening, Peter said: “My son was in hospital for a while in North Tyneside so I visited him and walked along the coast.
“I saw Cullercoats and thought, my God, why haven’t I painted this in 35 years of living here? Of course, it does have that history of the artists’ colony so they also recognised the appeal, particularly of Cullercoats Bay.”
Cullercoats and other Northumberland villages make up one half of Peter’s Biscuit Factory exhibition. Hadrian’s Wall constitutes the other.
“I’ve visited it, walked it but I think it was only about two years ago I started concentrating on it as an artist,” said Peter, who also has his own gallery in Hexham.
Like Cullercoats, Hadrian’s Wall has attracted more than its fair share of artists over the years but Peter is one who seems to have captured the essence of both places.
In the painting Cullercoats, Incoming Tide you can see the crowd from afar. Via a scattering of coloured marks, you can sense the people paddling, lounging, strolling, making the most of a summer’s day as the water encroaches over the sand.
A different shade of blue hangs over Hadrian’s Wall, Highshield Crags which is contrastingly desolate. A low sun bleaches the rocks.
If you know the place, you’ll know Peter has captured its unique qualities, the wildness and the challenge it poses to walkers, even on a good day, as it snakes across the high ground towards the horizon.
Not surprisingly, Peter is one of those artists who likes to paint from life, setting up in the open air. “I suppose I’m a bit of a hangover from the 19th Century,” he said.
“In the process of painting from life you tend to see a place in different weather, in different light, in different moods.
“You try to get under the skin of your subject so the boundaries dissolve and you become part of it. You can’t always replicate that in the studio although I do use sketches and photographs to capture the memory of a place.
“At Cullercoats I’d be able to put in a good session, maybe two or three hours, before the light would change and I’d have to go back to the studio. That’s fine but it’s the directness that I really like.”
In Cullercoats he reckoned he was something of a rare sight. “I did my best to be invisible but a lot of people stopped and were interested. They said they’d never seen anybody painting at Cullercoats.”
Peter, after spending his first 19 years travelling the world in an RAF family (“We moved every year-and-a-half which meant 11 different schools”), moved to Newcastle in 1978, aged 21. He worked as a graphic designer before studying for a fine art degree at Newcastle Poly.
Now that his youngest has reached the grand old age of 14, this father-of-five is planning to embark on a bit more wandering, loading his art materials – acrylics rather than oils for the quicker drying time – aboard his trusty Reynolds 531 touring bike for a painting trip to Brittany.
Peter’s oil paintings can be seen as part of the Summer Show at the Biscuit Factory, 16 Stoddart Street, NE2 1AN until the end of August.