AS a young lad growing up in Wallsend in the 1960s, Phil George took in the sights around him like a sponge absorbs water.
“We were within five minutes’ walk of the shipyards but the houses we lived in were demolished in 1969,” he recalls.
“When the shipyard siren went off it’d be like rush hour in the morning with all the men flocking to work.”
All that’s gone now, the men, the sirens and the cranes, not demolished but carried away by market forces for a useful new life in India.
Phil’s dad was a builder who worked on sites all over the North East. His mum was a barmaid.
As an adult, all the sights of his youth – pubs, shipyards, terraced homes, cranes and workers, hundreds and thousands of them in regulation grey – remain in his mind as clear as day.
And as an artist they are the inspiration for paintings that are flying off the easel as they are snapped up by admirers from all corners of Britain and beyond.
The Clark Art Gallery in Hale, Cheshire, specialises in the work of LS Lowry and modern British art. Phil’s work, unashamedly nostalgic but founded on his vivid memories, fits in perfectly.
The Cheshire gallery, one of the few places that Phil’s work is exhibited, reports that private collectors from as far away as Australia have snapped up his work, meaning there is a waiting list.
More than 40 of his paintings have been sold since the summer, all conveying the grittiness of the North East industrial landscape but also its warmth and humour.
A modest man, Phil says he does wish he’d become a full-time painter earlier in life.
Born in 1960, he left school at 16 and worked for a bit before enrolling at North Tyneside College where he was introduced to the work of Stanley Spencer, Eric Ravilious, Norman Cornish and the Liverpool artist Brian Shields, who was nicknamed Braaq.
“I did my A-levels, including A-level art, and then did graphic art for many years. I didn’t know anybody who made a living as an artist in the early 80s and it’s still very difficult now.
“But graphic design, before computers, was much more hands on. For me it was the next best thing to being a painter.
“I did a lot of illustration and was always drawing and painting.”
Phil recalls a touching encounter with the late photographer Jimmy Forsyth in Newcastle’s Grainger Market. He was taking photographs and Jimmy, who’d been doing the same thing for many years, came over to compare notes.
Like Jimmy, Phil liked to get out and about, seeing things in the flesh before consigning them to art.
“I’ve still got an etching I did in 1981 of Newcastle Central Station. I caught flu because I sat there and got soaking wet.”
In 2008, with the recession starting to bite, Phil’s talent as a painter came to the fore.
“I was doing paintings in my spare time and I took them to this place to be framed.
“They started selling pretty much immediately.” Phil, who moved to Wakefield 18 months ago to be nearer his daughter, recalls a woman asking him if he had a proper gallery and recommending Clark Art.
He sent them a picture of the Fenwick Christmas window.
“They sold it immediately and I did a few more.
“They sold them even before they got framed up.
“You’d think my stuff would only sell to people from Tyneside but Clark Art are selling them to people all over the place.
“A lot of them have sold in London which I find quite strange. I’d always taken it for granted that they’d only sell in the North East.”
You can see some of Phil’s work on the gallery website, www.clark-art.~ co.uk, and enjoy paintings with titles such as He’s Had a Few, Mind and I’m Taking the Dog for a Pint.
It’s the world of his childhood, largely gone but not forgotten.