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Isherwood Exhibition: Paintings For Flowers
Tuesday 6th October, 2009

Isherwood Exhibition: Paintings For Flowers
John Higham with two of the paintings due to be exhibited “Top Place” (black and white) and “Wigan Skyline”.

IT’S not uncommon to hear tales of struggling artists selling their work for food and paint.

Now it seems one prolific Wigan painter traded his canvas to buy his mother flowers!

Fifty never before exhibited paintings by the charismatic Wigan artist James Lawrence Isherwood are set to go on display at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh.

The paintings belonged to the late Wigan florist and successful businessman William “Billy” Higham.

Both men were born in 1917, grew up doors apart in their small Wigan terraces and attended the same primary school. But while their early days were similar their adult lives were poles apart.

Isherwood’s world - like his paintings - was unpredictable and often chaotic, a stark contrast to the respected churchgoing businessman who grafted out a successful chain of florists.

Yet despite their changing fortunes they remained close throughout their lives.

The paintings have been loaned to the gallery by Billy’s nephew John Higham, 65, from Standish.

John said: “Jim was a regular visitor to Billy’s shop in Makinson Arcade, always wearing a black velvet beret and a large black cloak totally covering him.
“Billy was extremely pleased to see him although some of the staff were quite afraid of him. He was an imposing figure.
“There’d always be a painting in the office when he’d gone and he invariably left with flowers for his mother.”

His mother, Lily, was his inspiration and business manager and Isherwood remained the doting son until her death in 1973.

In his life Isherwood’s paintings didn’t command a high price, he even offered HP payments in a bid to sell his work. However, since his death in 1989 his paintings and his popularity have grown – some paintings selling at Sotheby’s for thousands of pounds.

Isherwood is as culturally important to Wigan as L.S Lowry is to Salford. A charismatic, imposing, mysterious figure painting in a style more akin to Paris in the late 19th century than a northern British industrial town in the 1970s.

Martyn Lucas, the exhibition’s organiser and Visual Arts Officer for Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust explained why his popularity continues to grow.

He said: “Isherwood was either in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time. Here he was painting in the style of late 19th century Parisian impressionists and early 20th century German expressionists in a northern provincial town of the 60s and 70s, and there lies the fizz and frisson in his work.”

Billy Higham passed away at his Cornwall home last year but John and Billy had both planned to exhibit the paintings before Billy’s death at the age of 91.

The J. L Isherwood Exhibition opens at the Turnpike Gallery, Leigh, Greater Manchester on November 7 and continues until January 2.

For more information, contact the Turnpike Gallery on 01942 404 469.

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