AFTER an enforced break from painting though illness, Selby artist John Thornton is back with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

On the heels of a sale of his past works at Kentmere House Gallery earlier this summer, his new paintings go on show from Thursday at Ann Petherick's gallery in Scarcroft Hill, York.

"John is especially pleased with this new work, resulting from visits to Devon, Suffolk and Norfolk, as well as his regular haunts on the Yorkshire coast," says Ann, who first discovered Thornton's work in an open exhibition in Hull 15 years ago.

Using her well-honed detective skills for finding talented artists who go under the radar, she tracked down Thornton and arranged to meet him. "That was the beginning of a partnership that has continued very successfully to this day," says Ann.

"John brings huge energy and drive to his work and it's as if gallery visitors respond to his enthusiasm. I've seldom, if ever, met anyone who doesn’t respond favourably to John’s work, which has a compelling serenity that seems to strike a chord with just about everyone, even those who aren't normally attracted to seascapes but who appreciate that John’s seas are alive and real."

The self-taught Yorkshire painter works in a garden studio on the banks of the Ouse at Selby.

Although he is still producing his powerful and dramatic North Yorkshire seascapes, latterly he has focused more on quiet woodland scenes that often incorporate water too.

Thornton, by the way, had entered that career-shaping Hull exhibition 15 years ago on a whim and was amazed when, ringing to arrange to collect his work, he was told that both paintings had sold and he was the joint prize winner.

Since then, he has become a full-time artist; been invited to join the Royal Society of Marine Artists in London; been featured in glossy magazines and showed in prestigious galleries across the country. He still feels excitement whenever he sells a painting and was thrilled the first time he showed with the Marine Artists in London.

"More important than the money is the thought that someone has chosen to spend their hard-earned cash on my work," he says. "That was a fantastic day, when I first exhibited in the Royal Society's gallery on The Mall; it was beyond my wildest dreams."

Thornton 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 1960s, 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 that was originally his grandfather’s home, then was passed on to his parents, then himself and his sisters, and now John and his family. "It is a true family house, and one of the oldest houses in the town," says Ann.

The mixed media that Thornton most often uses encompasses ink, acrylic and watercolour to achieve the fluidity that he seeks, along with found materials, such as sand, shells and rope, while his woodland scenes add materials such as seeds and grasses.

His garden studio is very much an artist’s den, with pieces of flotsam and jetsam that may one day make their way on to a painting.

For his subject matter, John and partner Deborah love to discover quiet unknown areas, particularly those where access is difficult. "It means there’s no-one else there," he reasons.

Blessed with his joinery skills, he still works in wood too, making life-size carvings of birds from pieces of driftwood, with beaks and legs fashioned from the corroded metal rods from the Second World War reinforced concrete defences, found on his beachcombing trips.

John Thornton's new paintings will be exhibited at Kentmere House Gallery from July 25 to October 6. The gallery is open on Thursday evenings until 9pm, the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, 11am to 5pm, and at other times by appointment on 01904 656507.

Charles Hutchinson