AFTER a break from painting in 2018, John Thornton has returned with renewed vigour and enthusiasm in his summer exhibition at Kentmere House Gallery, Scarcroft Hill, York.

“John feels that his work has changed in recent months and so he has reduced the prices of his older paintings to make room for the new work,” says gallery owner Ann Petherick.

“I first discovered John’s work in an open exhibition in Hull ten years ago,” adds Ann, who applied her well-honed detective skills for finding talented but under-the-radar artists. “I tracked him down and went to meet him, and was the beginning of a partnership that has continued very successfully to this day.”

Thornton is a self-taught painter who works in a garden studio on the banks of the Ouse at Selby, where he brings energy and drive to his work, in which water is the element that most fascinates him.

“I have seldom, if ever, met anyone who doesn’t respond favourably to John’s work,” says Ann. “The work has a compelling serenity that seems to strike a chord with just about everyone, even those who are not normally attracted to seascapes but who appreciate that John’s seas are alive and real.

“His powerful and dramatic seascapes enable you to hear the roar of the sea and to feel that you are standing on the edge of the cliff or beach, whereas his quiet woodland scenes have a contrasting calm and peaceful atmosphere, also often incorporating water.”

John says: “Every time you look at the sea it is different: different light, different wind speed, different weather conditions and different movement.”

Consequently his work is spontaneous and intuitive. “When I start a painting in the morning I have to have something to show for it at the end of the day,” he says.

He spent much of his working life as a joiner, like his father and grandfather, but interspersed with a variety of jobs: selling leather clothes in Chelsea in the Sixties, living in a hippy colony in Cornwall and travelling to Morocco in a Dormobile van.

It was the mid-Seventies before he made his way back to Yorkshire, to a 17th century riverside house in Selby: originally the home of his grandfather, then his parents, then himself and his sisters, and now John and his family. Truly a family house, it is one of the oldest houses in the town.

John’s mixed-media works encompasses ink, acrylic and watercolour to achieve the fluidity that he seeks, along with found materials, such as sand, shells and rope. For his woodland scenes, he adds seeds and grasses.

The influence of his love of the sea is omnipresent in his studio, where he is surrounded by fishing nets, glass floats and pieces of flotsam and jetsam picked up along the coast, all of which may one day make its way on to a painting.

His seascapes are worked in a combination of watercolour, ink and acrylic, with whatever material comes to hand used to add texture: sand, grasses, shells, rope et al. “After all, nothing on a beach is flat,” he says. “The beach is always moving.”

Most of his work is inspired by the North Yorkshire coast, with occasional forays to Cornwall too, where his daughter now lives.

John and partner Deborah love to discover quiet, unknown beaches along the Yorkshire coast, the best being those where the access is extremely difficult. “It means there’s no-one else there,” reasons John.

He still works in wood too, making life-size carvings of birds from pieces of driftwood, with beaks and legs created from the corroded metal rods from the Second World War, found on his beachcombing trips.

“If you have always coveted one of John’s paintings – and let’s face it, who hasn’t? – now is your chance,” says Ann.

John Atkin’s exhibition runs until July 7; open on Thursday evenings until 9pm; the first weekend of the month, 11am to 5pm each day, and by appointment on 01904 656507.

Charles Hutchinson