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Northumbria University Gallery celebrates work of Albert Irvin with a special exhibition

The much-admired artist, who died in March aged 92, showed his work as part of the gallery's inaugural exhibition in 1978

Artist Albert Irvin
Artist Albert Irvin

The life and work of artist Albert Irvin is being celebrated at the University Gallery in Newcastle, with which he had a long-running relationship. Sam Wonfor finds out more.

A special exhibition is being held at University Gallery in Newcastle to celebrate the life of artist Albert Irvin, who died aged 92 in March.

The collection of 18 exuberant gouaches and prints dating from 1979-2000 was brought together by the gallery at Northumbria University - which had a long association with the artist - to highlight the importance of Irvin both regionally and nationally.

Albert, who became a Royal Academician in 1998 and was appointed OBE in 2013, created an extraordinary body of abstract paintings, watercolours and prints, often singing with colour and blazing with gorgeous hues.

Born in Bermondsey, London, he was evacuated to Northamptonshire during World War II and gained a scholarship to study at Northampton School of Art. He was called up in 1941, trained as a navigator in Canada and from 1944 flew bombing missions over Germany.

Albert’s earliest solo exhibitions date to 1960 in Edinburgh and he became part of the London scene during the following few years. In the 1970s when he made crucial changes to his technique including replacing oil paint with acrylic and using a large squeegee as a palette knife.

An exhibition celebrating the life and work of artist Albert Irvin is being held at the Northumbria University Gallery
An exhibition celebrating the life and work of artist Albert Irvin is being held at the Northumbria University Gallery

Albert first exhibited at the University Gallery in 1978, during its inaugural programme and showed works in three subsequent exhibitions during his lifetime at the gallery.

He taught at Goldsmith’s College between 1962 and 1983, and had a close connection with Northumbria University, teaching as a visiting lecturer at the Fine Art department, where he was always generous with his time.

During the 1980s his work became prominent nationally, finally finding a wide audience, including in Australia where he exhibited.

Thirty years after first showing at the University Gallery, his work was chosen to celebrate the launch of the galleries at Kings Place concert hall and office building in London, programmed by Mara-Helen Wood, the gallery’s director.

This 2008 exhibition brought a brilliance of colour and energy to the new building with work which had recently been on display at the new extension to Tate Britain.

Mara-Helen says: “Naturally I was very sad to hear of Albert’s death, but felt it would be important to turn around a small extra exhibition which could open quickly, so people could see a collection of work.

“The gallery did this through borrowing back works from Maggie’s (Centre and the Freeman Hospital), and supplementing works from our own collection with pieces from Albert’s London gallery Gimpel Fils.

“The exhibition sits alongside a planned exhibition by Peter Lanyon and both artists were very interested in aerial views, Peter as a pilot and Albert as a cartographer. The two artists were friends and shared similar interests in art and music. This exhibition is in a sense a tribute to both artists and their impact on abstract painting today.”

An exhibition celebrating the life and work of artist Albert Irvin is being held at the Northumbria University Gallery
An exhibition celebrating the life and work of artist Albert Irvin is being held at the Northumbria University Gallery

* Albert Irvin 1922-2015, Gouaches and Prints, will be at the Northumbria University Gallery until May 22. For more information, call 0191 227 4424 or visit www.universitygallery.co.uk

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