Arthur Berry Woman and plant

Exhibition of paintings by Staffordshire artist Arthur Berry held at The Art Studio in Newcastle-under-Lyme

7 March – 6 April 2024
The Art Studio
7 The Barracks Workshops, Barracks Road
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, ST5 1LG

The Art Studio in Newcastle-under-Lyme is pleased to present a solo exhibition of celebrated Stoke-on-Trent artist Arthur Berry. This exquisitely curated survey of work comprises twenty large scale paintings, spanning The Potteries’ artist’s later years from the 1970s until his death in 1994, and features portraits, figurative works, urban landscapes and still lifes.
Arthur Berry is one of the most famous 20th Century artists of the area, often dubbed the ‘Lowry of The Potteries.’ He is renowned for his distinct observational approach, looking at direct surroundings for his subject matter. Born in Smallthorne, Stoke-on-Trent, his creative work – not only in painting, but also poetry and playwrighting – was deeply rooted in the culture, people and landscape of the industrial pottery town of Burslem. While he lived for some time in bohemian London as a student at the prestigious Royal College of Art, and latterly, during the Second World War, in rural Ambleside, it was to his beloved North Staffordshire that he ultimately returned and spent the majority of his life.
Berry’s dark realist paintings confront you with their rough, scratched and vigorously worked surfaces, appearing dense and intensely atmospheric. They are dominated by metallic greys, browns and rusty brick reds, seeming to precisely absorb the dust, smoke and soot of the physical surroundings of Stoke-on-Trent at its industrial height. And yet so often, beneath these first impressions, is a shot of dark humour that peels back the ragged shell to reveal a core of deep authenticity. Berry was drawn to the overlooked, the alienated, the worn out, the grotesque and the hopeless. His wry, gently satirical and yet undoubtedly affectionate observations find a raw beauty in unexpected places.
“The evenings were a cinderous grey, turning to purple and rust. The night sky was filled with a luminous beauty, against which the great kilns were etched in blackness…It was like a walled city, covered in soot surrounded by shord rucks and pit tips, enormous dark triangles that glowed and burned in the wind…As I walked among the side streets of the town in the squares of slums and hovels and saw the poor people, I wanted to paint these people, not out of my indignation at their poverty, but in some way, out of the richness of it.” Arthur Berry, 1986
Berry’s love of North Staffordshire was deep and permanent, and he would often spend time in the pubs where he could be an spectator of the idiosyncrasies of the patrons at their most candid and unguarded. In both writing and painting, he describes many people he saw, including the lonely, the broke, the old, the honest and the greedy. Berry’s notable characters, such as dirty-faced children and grossly rotund women, appear on his same pages and walls, alongside ordinary men. As we see in the portraits shown here, Arthur Berry’s choice of subject was not discriminatory – as he told Peter Cheeseman (Director of the Victoria Theatre for 35 years, and later of the New Victoria):
“My Parthenon is an allotment hut knocked together out of bits of rubbish.
It is the richness of poor things that I am drawn to.”
Arthur Berry
Berry’s love-hate relationship with his own art means there is very little remaining from his younger years and there are accounts of him sending van loads to the city dump. Thankfully his later works were largely saved, and it is a marvel to have such a broad span of fantastic pieces on show here.
Arthur Berry died in 1994. A major retrospective of his work was held at Stoke-on-Trent City Museum and Art Gallery in 1984. Posthumously, his paintings have been shown throughout Staffordshire, including in Lowry and Berry: Observers of Urban Life at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery (2015 – 2016).