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An exhibition of pictures by one of the most distinguished observers of the British landscape, Norman Ackroyd, will be on show at Messums in London throughout January. Twenty-two aquatints and etchings of the Yorkshire countryside – from the snowy plains of the dales to the shadowy presence of Whitby Abbey – will reveal the majesty not only of the landscape of the North but of Ackroyd’s technical skill.
After leaving the family home in Hunslet, Leeds, to take up a place at the Royal College of Art in 1961, Ackroyd has built a reputation as one of Britain’s most highly regarded printmakers.
He made his first etching at Leeds College of Art 60 years ago before winning a place at the Royal College of Art in London where there were 15 other students from Yorkshire, including David Hockney.
“We brought our Yorkshire accents and our work ethic with us’ he said.
Although Ackroyd now lives and works in London he visits Yorkshire often, working in plein air, outside in all weathers, making a watercolour in situ before creating an etching and ensuing prints in his London studio.
This exhibition features a views of Harewood House, Thirsk Hall, Thimbleby, the valley of Wharfedale, the plains of North Riding and Bempton Cliffs – all depicted with Ackroyd’s characteristic muted, monochrome tones that allow the viewer to feel the energy and essence of both familiar and faraway landscapes without the distraction of colours.
He attributes his love of the region’s rural landscape to his brother, who was 12 years older than him and a keen fisherman.
They used to catch the 4am milk train from Leeds up to Settle and while his brother cast his line onto the River Ribble, Ackroyd opened his sketchbook.
Features of the landscape are picked out with an exacting focus yet fluency, born of years of making drawings in all matter of materials, distilled into the aquatints for which he has become so celebrated.
Now a Royal Academician, works by Ackroyd are in a number of major public collections including the Tate Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. During a recent BBC documentary he was described by the writer Robert Macfarlane as creating ‘astonishing’ works. ‘They take me to those places,’ he said.