DIARY: Sketching success

Ashley Jackson
Ashley Jackson
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ASHLEY Jackson, the Barnsley boy who grew up to become an artist so respected his watercolours have been presented to four British prime ministers and one American president, is confused.

He has a new book out this Christmas called My Yorkshire Sketchbook.

But, despite featuring dozens of illustrations capturing our region’s rugged beauty, there’s not one from his dear South Yorkshire.

“Aren’t there?” he says. “I don’t know why. The publishers chose the pictures. I gave them my sketch books and they took what they wanted. Are there really none? Well, we’re doing a second next year. I’ll make sure there are some in that.”

It matters not, really.

Ashley’s work may focus on the wider region – Stoodley Pike, Saddleworth Moor and Slack Bottom all crop up regularly – but his appeal has long since stretched beyond mere county borders.

This is a man who, apart from having his work given to Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, was once part of a joint exhibition with Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

“That was in Lanzarote in the 1970s,” says the 72-year-old who today lives in Holmfirth. “It was arranged by the Spanish government. I couldn’t afford to go so I never met them.

“But I like to think of Picasso telling people he’d exhibited with Ashley Jackson.”

Not that such big names phase him.

Next year will mark half a century since he opened his first gallery in High Street, Dodworth (“my landlord was a brewery”), but he insists he has the same grounded philosophy now as then.

“I’d rather see my art on the door in a public convenience as anywhere else,” he says. “At least then you know someone will look at it.

“It’s a snobby business, art. But I’m not interested. I’m a Barnsley lad who grew up in Longman Road. My art is for the common man. That’s who I like.”

It hardly needs saying the common man likes him right back.

Ashley’s success saw him swap that Dodworth space for a bigger gallery in Church Street in 1970, before opening a second place in Holmfirth eight years later. He moved to the town around the same time.

“It gives me better access to the moors,” he says.

He’s had his own Yorkshire TV series in the 1980s, and, in 2009, Yorkshire Bank decorated a debit card with one of his works. More recently, he’s had perhaps the ultimate accolade – a train named after him.

“It runs to London,” says the grandfather-of-four who shut that Church Street gallery in 2008. “It features some of my art so I like to think it’s helping to educate the southerners.”

He’s suffered for that art, incidentally. He suffered a collapsed lung after spending too long making sketches out on the damp moorland.

“I haven’t let it stop me,” he says. “I just don’t go in February any more.”

And now this book?

“It’s very personal,” he muses. “These are my sketches before I turn them into watercolours.

It’s my work at its most raw, the way it looks when I first capture a place in Yorkshire and how it makes me feel.

“Some artists use a camera to do that but this is more pure.”

n My Yorkshire Sketchbook, published through Dalesman, is available now.