Aidan Myers Art
James Lawrence Isherwood
(1917-1989)

 

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Born in 1917 the son of a Wigan cobbler, Jim Isherwood is reported to have started painting at the age of nine. Early experiences in the accounts department of a local factory and later helping in the family shoe business did nothing to dim his overriding ambition to become an artist. He studied art at Wigan Technical College School of Art from 1934 to 1953 but his style is very individualistic. He copied no-one.

Isherwood was not bound by formal rules. He created his own unique view of Wigan. Scarlet skies over a dark street scene, cold blues and greys lit up by vibrant yellows or reds, he was an expressionist in the true sense of the word.

He was described by Douglas Boyd, producer of the BBC film 'I am Isherwood' as a man living in the wrong age, living in the Paris 1900 style but in Wigan in the 1970's. This was indeed an apt assessment of his lifestyle. His long, flowing cape and sandals were viewed with suspicion and mirth by the people of Wigan. His work, however, reflected the realities of life in a northern town. Like Lowry before him, his art was simply his interpretation of what he saw, what he experienced. The recognition and praise of Lowry, who displayed the work of the Wigan artist in his home in Mottram-in-Langdale, meant a great deal to Isherwood.

Although wide ranging in subject,his paintings often reflected Lancashire's working classes in clogs and shawls. Wigan, sometimes as a detailed townscape, sometimes as simply quick brush strokes, was depicted as dark and hard but always with hope and a great deal of feeling.

His more serious mission was to bring art to the people. He held over 200 one-man shows up and down the country. He regularly exhibited at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, selling his pictures at a discount rate to the undergraduates. The Prince of Wales, while at Cambridge, bought an Isherwood seascape. In his quest to take art to the people he exhibited in some unusual locations such as beneath Boadicea's statue at Westminster and in a lay-by on the East Lancashire road. He sometimes used paintings to settle his bills.

Isherwood lived in one of the best residential locations in Wigan with his mother Lily. She was probably the most important influence on his life and work. She encouraged and supported him and he painted her portrait hundreds of times. Lily's death in 1973 was a severe blow and Isherwood was subsequently admitted to Billinge hospital for treatment for depression and alcoholism. In the mid to late 1970's he travelled Europe with Pat, a kindred spirit and fellow artist, and produced many stunning works in vibrant colours. In the 1980's following the breakup of the relationship with Pat, Isherwood again submitted to alcoholism and depression and a steady decline culimated in his death from cancer in 1989 in a poverty of his own making.