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Liz Atkin: Drawings, Collage and Writing – A Retrospective 

Liz Atkin: Drawings, Collage and Writing – A Retrospective was an exhibition showcasing the eclectic practice of the late Liz Atkin (1951 – 2018). Well known for her detailed and large-scale drawings, the artist was committed to working in pencil. Using monochrome as a means to acknowledge the marginalised, with ‘imaginative speculation’ and incredible skill, Liz worked tirelessly to demonstrate the possibilities offered by shades of graphite. This exhibition collected drawings, collage and poetry, displayed alongside writings and personal artefacts belonging to the artist.

Photo Credit Mark Vincent .*1990

“I never got to meet Liz,” says Jed Buttress, the recently-appointed curator of the Newcastle Arts Centre Gallery, “but I know that she was a prolific and talented artist, and an astute observer of people. As a maker, Liz was able to capture the essence of people in a single portrait, or in a few lines of prose. It felt important to try and return the favour with this exhibition – to capture a sense of Liz’s character and present it to the public.”

“I worked closely with Liz’s partner to find out who she was and how her work should be displayed. We wanted to show her iconic drawings, but also her collages, writings and personal effects.”

“I was able to visit Liz’s studio and talk to some of her peers to get their advice. The resulting exhibition displayed a selection of her different practices, alongside the various tools of her trade.”

Liz Atkin was hooked into art during childhood, accompanying her father, watercolour artist Peter Atkin, when he was out sketching landscapes. Born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, the family eventually settled near Northampton, Liz moving to London in the early 1970’s to study at St Martin’s School of Art where Liz insisted on solely developing skills and expertise using pencil, her chosen medium from that time on. She wanted to prove that pencil could be used for more than preliminary sketching, showing tone and shade, and to challenge the idea that drawings have to be small.

Liz admired the work of Francis Bacon, Paula Rego, Lucien Freud and others, and together with her experience of St Martin’s and life around Soho, developed her artistic perspective. As a great observer of people, often those on the edges of society caught in conditions or everyday chance events out of their control, these observations informed her subject matter, as did old family snaps, re-imagining lives and lost identity.

Liz had moved from Swansea to the northeast in 1986, continuing to draw at a prolific rate, the drawings often complex, requiring obsessive discipline over hours, days and weeks, to complete powerfully realist studies blended with the surreal. Liz’s work had a narrative, stories within a drawing or series of drawings, particularly attracted to unusual faces.

She exhibited frequently in the UK and Europe between 1975 and 2016, from large scale, 6 feet high graphite drawings, such as those included in ‘Drawings’ at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1990, and ‘Chimpanzee Nativity’ at Edinburgh College of Art 1993, and the Claude Andre Gallery, Brussels 1994. A series of work shown at bookshop Dillon’s for the 1996 UK Year of the Visual Arts, was followed, after an extended break, by New Drawings 2006, Quirks and Vagaries 2008, and her last exhibition of collage ‘Headcase’ in 2016, all at Newcastle Arts Centre. She was also supported over these decades by the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery, now located in Austria.

At times Liz would turn to writing poetry and prose, the intention to create visual images with words. Publications included:

‘Glee with a Blue Background’. (1998) Diamond Twig, Newcastle upon Tyne and

CITYSKIN (2011) New Writing North, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Six steps to make an Action Man say ‘Aargh!’

Liz had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994, which eventually came to affect her ability to produce the large scale and detailed graphite images. As a consequence, Liz adjusted her approach, scaling down her drawings, using collage as well as writing, experimenting with book formats to present images and prose as continued expression of her ideas and observations. Always creative, always with a determined work ethic, her final project was short succinct prose, which she continued to refine until the last weeks of unexpected illness. Liz wanted to leave her mark as an artist and writer, this retrospective exhibition illustrated that achievement.

Liz Atkin: Drawings, Collage and Writing – A Retrospective was open 18th June – 29th July, 2022.
(Private View Friday 17th June, 17:00 – 19:00)

Newcastle Arts Centre
67 Westgate Road, NE1 1SG
0191 261 5618