As a boy Kevan Thompson has memories of being on the picket lines during the 1972 miners’ strike. Today those miners are the inspiration behind many of his paintings
Educated in Yorkshire, artist Kevan Thompson was advised by his tutor to progress to art college. Showing talent from an early age, he had dreamed of becoming an artist but as the son of a miner, he recalls: “I had to get a real job!”
Instead of pursuing his dream, Kevan became a teacher of special needs students – a job he loved and retired from after 37 years.
However, during that time, he has always continued to draw and paint: “When I was a schoolboy I would love drawing racing cars, but my art teacher always encouraged me to look further afield in terms of different styles and subjects, introducing me to figure drawing, which I really enjoyed. He was an exceptional teacher.”
When he retired, Kevan embarked on a two-year MA Degree art course at UCLan: “I started the course with some trepidation, but was told I did figure drawing very well. The course was amazing, it really encouraged me to develop and experiment with different styles. My style is still evolving.
“During my time at UCLan I started to look at things in a different way. I was also introduced to other artists, my tutors pushed me out of my comfort zone and I became hooked. I had been painting mainly A3 and A4 size, I was encouraged to scale it up which suited me well.
“I would do a painting and take a snapshot of a small part of it and make that particular detail much larger. The other artists also encouraged me to work in different mediums – I had worked a lot in watercolours but I started working with pastels and acrylics – I love working with pastel.
“I have quite a frenetic, staccato style, hitting the canvas quite hard with the application of paint and pastel.”
As the son of a miner, Kevan has always been drawn to the subject: “I did my first painting of a miner around 40 years ago – it was oil on board,” says Kevan, who was recently asked to submit an academic paper on ‘childhood memories’ to a national conference.
“It made me realise that if I had stayed living in Yorkshire like so many of my school friends, I would have become a miner. So, if I was to change, I had to leave,” recalls Kevan, who has memories of being on the picket lines during the 1972 miners’ strike.
“We used to live in a house in the pit yard. I used to walk up to the pit head after the shifts had finished and watch the miners come out covered in coal dust.
“That image always stays with me and through my painting I felt I wanted to go back and pay homage to those men in recognition of how it impacted on what I have become. I started working on different mining scenes.
“I love people watching – I consider it a skill to be able to put together a composition that captures movement and other elements,” explains Kevan, whose painting style has Cubism roots.
“I have been very much influenced by Cubism – and the father of Cubism was Picasso. I have a certain style that I work with to achieve something that I am happy with.”
Kevan works predominantly with oil and charcoal – mediums that have historically been used together by the likes of L S Lowry.
“Charcoal gives the painting a gritty finish, so it’s a very apt medium that suits the subject,” says Kevan, a keen walker and cyclist, who has enjoyed commercial success with his work, taking on various commissions.
“I love walking the Bowland fells and further afield in Scotland and Wales. I carry a sketch book and draw as I walk which I use to give me inspiration for my painting. When in Scotland I saw fisherman at the ferry terminal coming in with their catch, so I did a series of paintings on Orkney fishermen, they have all sold.”
Inspired by other artists, Kevan is a great admirer of Norman Cornish one of the most celebrated and sought-after British artists of the 20th century, noted for his mining scenes. He is also an admirer of one of Cornish’s contemporaries, Tom McGuinness, a coal miner and artist, who aged 18, was conscripted as a Bevin Boy during World War II.
“I have travelled miles to see their work. I also love the Scottish colourists Peploe and Fergusson – the boldness of their work is astounding,” says Kevan.
With a studio at home in Grimsargh, Kevan paints while listening to music: “It puts me in the zone. The time just flies by when I’m painting, it is all-consuming, quite tortuous at times.
“I very rarely work on just one painting – I have numerous on the go and I flit from one to the other. I have spoken to other artists and apparently this is not unusual.”
As for the future, keen gardener Kevan, has a number of prestigious projects in the pipeline: “One of them, if it goes ahead, will keep me busy for the next few years!”