Artist profile - John Freeman, Whitby

Day break over Whitby

Day break over Whitby - Credit: Archant

This month we celebrate the work of a watercolourist who has recorded the River Esk in all seasons, as Jeannie Swales reports

John Freeman

John Freeman - Credit: Archant

If you were to ask artist John Freeman what his main inspiration is, chances are he’d give you a one-word answer – Whitby. John came to Whitby in 1969 from Doncaster, where he had studied and taught for five years at Doncaster School of Art, and opened Abbey Galleries, his studio and gallery ever since. Over the last five decades he has created more images of the Whitby area than any other living artist.

His work is mainly in watercolour, with the subject matter drawn from his beloved Whitby and the surrounding villages, farms and moors. His love of detail, combined with strength of colour not normally associated with the medium, make his watercolours immediately recognisable.

In 2011, John embarked on a major project recording the River Esk, from its beginnings high above Westerdale down to its meeting with the North Sea at Whitby’s harbour mouth. The result is a book, A Meander Down the Esk (Zymurgy Publishing) featuring his paintings and drawings with supporting text. The paintings show the Esk in all seasons and at all times of the day; the fine pencil drawings depict details along the river, including its wildlife.

John says: ‘I find the immediacy of watercolour exciting and stimulating. It enables me to combine my love of detail with broad areas where pigment, paper and water create their own qualities.

‘During my meander down the Esk, I found that the river gave me a wonderful opportunity to enjoy this medium to the full. The movement of the water, contrasting with the bank-side structures, offered me the chance to create something very personal, and in this work you see the river through my eyes.’

Watercolours and pencil drawings from A Meander Down the Esk can be seen at the Inspired by… gallery at the The Moors National Park Centre at Danby until September 22nd. Admission is free, and the gallery is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

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