Capturing the world with Photography, Painting and Drawing

Thursdays Artist is a rediscovered source of artistic energy : Joash Woodrow

Four Trees, White Fence  by Woodrow, Joash (1927-2006); 99.5x122 cm; Private Collection; 108 Fine Art, Harrogate; British,  in copyright PLEASE NOTE: The Bridgeman Art Library represents the copyright holder of this image and can arrange clearance.

Four Trees, White Fence by Woodrow, Joash (1927-2006);

I first viewed the brilliant art work of Joash Woodrow in 2005 at the Manchester Art Gallery, I was back in Manchester visiting my sister and went into the city centre for the afternoon. I was not intending to visit the Gallery but it was raining so I wondered inside to see what exhibitions where on display, this was a lucky moment and one I will never forget.

I looked around the galleries permanent exhibitions and then took the stairs to the upper floor for a guest exhibition entitled “Retrospective – Joash Woodrow”, from the very first painting I viewed, I just knew I was going to fall in love with Joash’s drawings and paintings and I have been fascinated with his work and life story ever since.

I love Joash’s work for its very honest style, by this I mean that I feel he used his brush’s and paint’s to capture his world as he found it, there is little to praises or note about how perfect his style of painting or drawing is but so much to fall in love with about how he viewed his surroundings and how well he liked and felt for the people he painted.

This is painting in the RAW, produced by someone who, I feel if you were allowed to get close to him then you would truly like him !!!

Joash Woodrow (1927-2006) Mr Woodrow's Shop, Chapeltown Road, Leeds c

Joash Woodrow (1927-2006) Mr Woodrow’s Shop, Chapeltown Road, Leeds c

About Joash Woodrow, By :Nicholas Usherwood

Joash Woodrow, Reclusive painter whose work provides a significant link between British and European art

The chance discovery in a Harrogate bookshop in 2001, by the painter Christopher P Wood, of six volumes of an engraved Victorian art history, wildly and exuberantly annotated in a series of Picasso-esque drawings and collages by the then completely forgotten painter Joash Woodrow, led directly to the re-emergence of one of the most significant artistic figures in postwar British art. A visit a few days later by the Harrogate dealer Andrew Stewart to a small, semi-detached house in north Leeds, where Woodrow had lived alone for 20 years, uncovered an extraordinary story. The house was filled with some 750 canvases and around 4,000 works on paper, a lifetime’s achievement which a devoted family was none the less contemplating consigning to a skip.

Joash, who has died aged 78, had recently been taken into sheltered accommodation, having nearly set fire to the house, but his work itself had avoided serious damage. In the months that followed, it became apparent that this was no isolated figure at the margins of art history but an artist of sophisticated interests and training.

Born in Leeds, Woodrow was the seventh of nine children in a poor but cultured Jewish family that had escaped the pogroms in eastern Poland of the early 1900s. His father had run a Jewish bookshop in Chapeltown before working in Montague Burton’s factory to provide for a growing family. Joash trained at Leeds School of Art and, in 1950, won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art.

His intense shyness does not seem to have been suited to the competitive atmosphere there, though his tutors’ reports commented that his work already seemed more European in feeling than most of his contemporaries, among them John Bratby, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach. A year or so after leaving the RCA in 1953, he suffered a nervous breakdown and took himself back to Leeds, where, supported financially by his family, he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

Joash Woodrows - Leeds

Joash Woodrows – Leeds

With his mother and two brothers also living in the two-up, two-down house, working conditions must have been extremely cramped, which almost certainly explains the comparatively small scale of Woodrow’s early work. Mostly portraits and landscapes, their dark tones illumined by flashes of sonorous colour and intense solemnity, they reveal the beginning of a distinctive style, one that in its understanding of the French fauvist Georges Rouault showed Woodrow already looking to European art for inspiration.

This gathered momentum with a number of visits to the huge Picasso exhibition at the Tate in 1960, the crucial impact of which was to give Woodrow an insight into his Jewish heritage, and the understanding that the roots of his art lay outside this country and were essentially European in character.

Looking to the fierce expressionism of Karel Appel, Asger Jorn and the Cobra group, the harsh, raw surfaces of Jean Dubuffet and the Art Brut circle, and the insistence on the quality of mark-making of Nicolas de Staël and the tachistes, Woodrow began to uncover the source of those artistic energies that were to carry him over the next 30 years of intense activity. With the death of his mother in 1961 – and with more room in which to paint – there was a steady increase in the scale and ambition of the work.


A lack of success in the work he occasionally submitted to large, open competitions like the John Moores, however, encouraged a feeling of isolation, something his reclusiveness only served to emphasise. By the early 1970s, he was living and working with very little thought for anything but the next painting, producing large-scale canvases (anything of up to 5ft x 8ft) with quite extraordinary rapidity. When not painting, he was drawing furiously in the semi-industrial and urban districts of north Leeds those subjects that were to form the basis of some of the most original and experimental works of his later career.

If his personal life was unhappy, there is no sign of it in the power and exuberance of the broad brush strokes, high-pitched colour and boldly flattened picture spaces with which he describes this landscape – an unprepossessing jumble of scruffy allotments, derelict factories and scattered trees.

Gilbert Looking Down, Joash Woodrow

By the early 1990s, Woodrow’s physical and mental health began to decline, and the house was too cluttered with paintings for him to do anything but draw. At the time of the 1999 fire, he seems to have stopped doing even that and, after his removal to sheltered accommodation in Manchester, he lost interest in working altogether.

Nor did he seem very interested in the public recognition that followed, when books and major exhibitions – at Leeds art gallery and then Manchester art gallery, and the Ben Uri and RCA last year – created a wave of interest that looks certain to place him firmly as a significant link between British and European artistic movements in the second half of the 20th century. His brothers Saul, John and Paul survive him.

Joash Woodrow 1

· Joash Woodrow, artist, born April 7 1927; died February 15 2006

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.