Some farewell letters from Artscene
Tony Earnshaw dies
YORKSHIRE'S BEST known Surrealist, Tony Earnshaw, has died from Cancer, aged 76. The Ilkley born painter died in the arms of his wife Gail, at South Cleveland Hospital near his home in Saltburn-by-the-sea on /Friday, 17 August.
Earnshaw was renowned for his dry wit, much of which spilt over into his paintings, watercolours, drawings, and boxed assemblages. You never understood an Earnshaw painting before you read the title. Long before David Lynch, he achieved the feat of getting a surreal cartoon - Wokker - featured in a national newspaper (TES).
Although he built his reputation as a Leeds painter, Earnshaw was a factory worker for 25 years and a part-time lecturer at Bradford College of Art in the 1960's.
Inevitably a friend of George Melly (who he met in London in 1948 at the age of 24), Earnshaw had been devoted to surrealism since the Luftwaffe dropped a bomb in the allotments outside his grandmother's house in Saltburn. "I figured out then that Hitler had no chance of winning the war if he couldn't even knock out Saltburn," he said.
Artscene would be glad to hear from anyone wishing to record memories of Tony. We interviewed him once. His favourite movie was King Kong.
Artscene September 2001
Tony Earnshaw dies
Artscene October 2001
I would like to send my greatest sympathy to Gail Earnshaw on the loss of her lovely, joyful and spirited husband, Tony.
I first met Earnshaw in the late 80's when I was an art student and life model for Doug Binder (that's me pictured with Tony in the last edition of Artscene). I shared many strange and wondrous chats with Tony, especially on the subject of Saltburn, as I grew up there too.
One of my fondly abiding memories of conversations with Tony was upon the subject of inventing a surrealist contraception that would remove unwanted nose hair and ear hair. It's a strange thing to remember, but it was Tony's humour and imagination that could transfix you into such a topic. I don't think Tony ever produced or developed this idea!
I'm sure that Tony would want us to remember him with laughter and for his great creative talent - and his somewhat unconventional topics of conversation.
He will be sadly missed.
Yorkshire Artscene October 2001
AFTER READING TONY Earnshaw's obituary in the Guardian, I wrote the enclosed poem, and then I saw that Artscene was asking for memories of him, so I wondered if you should be interested in it.
I knew Tony in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and we often talked in The Fenton in Leeds, and later in the Nags Head in Chapel Allerton. Our conversation ranged over art, literature, politics and poetry, and we exchanged publications. He also lent me a number of books which influenced my work (he was 25 years older than me).
After he left Leeds, we kept in touch, and he sent me a Wokker Christmas card every year!
We'll print your poem - even though you appear to read the Guardian before you read Artscene. Tcha!
Several other readers sent letters that commemorated Tony Earnshaw and we thank them. We have never had such a response on a single topic; which speaks for itself.
For Tony Earnshaw by T.F.Griffin
Leeds was your home and haunt;
Standing in The Fenton, Pints of mild
Next to Strong forearm,
Your mountainous quiet
Contained the eagerness of a lifetime's thought:
After thirty years as factory hand,
Lathe turner, crane driver,
You stood there, unacknowledged legislator
Of Northern Surrealism:
An affiliated now
For dead days;
Listening close, your ears
Sprouting endearing hairs,
You told why to shut a gate on a large garden
Was to keep the wind out,
And how your boxes with bees
And ‘found' combs
Glassed in a gallery
Were a measure of all our lives.
This is for you Earnshaw,
Loyal friend, artist, poet.
Let the rule-makers and un-driven
Who hate the drinkers of mild
Smirk behind the glass
Of their unrecorded greed.
Yorkshire Artscene November 2001
‘We are still getting letters regretting the passing of painter, Tony Earnshaw.
An ex-student of Earnshaw in the 70's, Gerald Unwin, wrote of his ‘original slant on life': "His down-to-earth approach to what was a cheeky delight in expressing sheer nonsense (with a relevant and serious intent ) was at times thought provoking in the extreme."
Of his various projects Unwin recalls a ‘Mail Art' series, where..."he and Ken Rowat would send each other postcards. I only remember one, which was from Ken to Tony, where the whole surface of the card had been covered in half-penny stamps, with the exception of the space where the stamp normally went: which was where the address had been written.
"I last worked with Tony about a decade ago, at a workshop he was ‘running' at the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield. I had arranged for a group of my pupils to view an exhibition there of his boxed constructions. We were halfway through making our own versions when the fore alarm sounded and we had to abandon our partially completed art; squeezing onto the pavement outside we wondered if the alarm had been real or surreal".
Simon Poe was another student of Earnshaw's at Leeds Poly (1979 - 82), and reveals the painter also worked and Gail as friends and fellow artists in the years that followed though I saw little of them after they moved to Saltburn.
"I enjoyed Griffin's poem," continues Poe. "Unacknowledged legislator of Northern Surrealism" is good, but inaccurate. Everyone who knew anything about it acknowledged Tony's status. My memories of him, like most people I daresay, are a mixture of equal parts affection and respect. The world will be a smaller and duller place for his passing."
Finally Julian Satterthwaite also wrote to record his upset at Earnshaw's demise. "Last time I was in his company I sat alongside listening to his two colleagues Glen Baxter and Patrick Hughes," he writes. "Why has not a national gallery hosted a significant exposition of this historical proposition for an evaluation to be made?"
Just so. Thanks for taking the time to write.