THE ASHINGTON PAINTINGS
Against the Day
Though the idea for this exhibition came through studying the Pitmen Painters, these paintings aren’t about the Ashington Group, not really. These paintings are the product of many hours spent walking the streets of Ashington, at times in the footsteps of the Ashington Group, through a changed landscape that they would barely recognise physically, but in a socio-political climate that, increasingly, they might.
The paintings depict sites rich with histories, some of them evident within the palimpsest of marks, but much of them hidden by redevelopment, repurposing, redaction. Among the places depicted in the paintings are the sites of the five collieries operated by the Ashington Coal Company: Ashington, Woodhorn, Linton, Ellington and Lynemouth. There’s an oddness in standing on a clean, perfect road in a business park, armed with the knowledge that you’re in the middle of a vast colliery, or in watching swans glide over a lake knowing that you’re on the site of the one-time biggest slag heap in Europe. These new paintings are as much, if not more, about the ghosts of Ashington as they are about the town today.
I started walking Ashington in 2015 before the biggest political shifts in this country since the pits were closed. The beginning and end of the Ashington Group coincided with the depression of the 1930s and the recession of the 1980s, and many of the members lived to see the industry that they had documented, and the very reason for Ashington’s existence, taken away, making their decades long documentation of their working and home lives, all the more poignant.
The last pit closed thirty years ago, and Ashington is in flux. No longer the Biggest Mining Village in the world. No longer any mining, no longer a village. There’s literally a hole in the centre of the town. The place names as in other towns, give clues to their own histories; Portland Park, Station Road, Milburn Road. They aim for an optimism, with streets named after English trees and Shakespearean heroines. They seek permanence but other names betray them with their itchy feet. They’re transitory, looking for the next place, to find their own end; Woodhorn Road, Newbiggin Road, North Seaton Road.
The afternoon sun is always low and shining into your eyes in Ashington regardless of which direction you’re facing,‘contre-jour’ a friend from Chestnut Street told me. Perhaps there are bright things ahead; we just can’t quite see them yet.
Narbi Price, 2018