North Yorkshire artist Len Tabner on Staithes' seascapes

Len Tabner doesn't mind getting his feet wet to create his dramatic seascapes, as Paul Mackenzie reports

Len Tabner’s parents weren’t keen on him attending art school. They felt he should get a proper job instead but 45 years on he has proved he was right. He has become one of the finest and most respected painters the county, and arguably the country, has produced.

He was born in Middlesbrough and grew up on and beside water. His father was a lifelong seaman who worked on dredgers in the River Tees and when he was a student Len worked in fishing and on oil rigs. But even as a child he knew his future lay in art. ‘My parents were opposed to me going to art school but I just did it,’ he said.

‘It wasn’t something I needed to discuss. I just continued and when something continues people tend to accept it. I took various jobs to supports myself and went to art school.’

He studied at Bath and Reading and was offered teaching posts, and even a residency in one art college, but turned them down in favour of a return to the north. He now lives in a stone cottage high on the cliffs above Staithes in North Yorkshire and said: ‘I didn’t want to teach, I wanted to paint. And I wanted to paint here. I’m interested in the wildness, ruggedness and grandeur of the landscape, the weather and the physical forms of the land.’

Much of his work is concerned with the forces of nature and he immerses himself in the subject to create the paintings which have won him numerous accolades and awards. He has painted deep underground in potash mines, in the white-hot intensity of an ironworks and during storms while standing on the deck of a boat, or on the beach with the waves crashing over his feet.

‘I can’t conceive of any other way of painting. If I want to paint the weather I want it in front of me, I want to feel it.

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‘I work at the edge of the sea because that is a place which interests me and so sometimes the tide comes in around me. I have tried from time to time to work in a studio but I am happier working outdoors and I always have been.’

He has exhibited his work at shows around the country for more than 30 years and his latest exhibition will be held this month at Messum’s Fine Art Gallery in London.

‘Selling my work is not my priority,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot I won’t sell because the experience of being there meant so much to me at the time. I don’t paint to sell, I paint because I feel a need to respond to the landscape in a certain way.’

He doesn’t tend to give interviews either – making a rare exception for Yorkshire Life. ‘Some painters view themselves as celebrities, like pop singers or film stars. That doesn’t interest me. Painting is a private activity and that’s the way I like it to be.’

Len will exhibit his work at Messum’s Fine Art, 8 Cork Street, London, from January 13th-30th. Contact the gallery on 0207 437 5545 for more details.

Why not exhibit your paintings in the Yorkshire Life Gallery. Send images of your work on a disc with your full contact details to The Gallery, Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163, Ripon, HG4 9AG. I am afraid discs are non returnable.

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