Ray’s a ‘pitmen painter’ for the 21st century

A painting by Ray Campbell from Blyth.
A painting by Ray Campbell from Blyth.

A pitman turned painter may not be a new concept but Ray Campbell is fast gaining a reputation as one of Northumberland’s most talented watercolour artists – at the age of 68.

The retired miner, from Blyth, only took up art seriously a few years ago after finding himself with time on his hands.

Now his distinctive creations, capturing familiar rural and urban scenes around the north east, sell for hundreds of pounds

Ray studied art at Newcastle College more than 50 years ago, before he ended up working as a locomotive driver at Lynemouth Colliery.

More than 40 years since he last picked up a paintbrush, a young relative asked him to draw a car that he could colour in, and this led Ray to rediscover his talent.

“I worked in the mining industry for 21 years, so it’s only natural people sometimes refer to me as the pitmen painter,” Ray said.

“But I’m quick to remind them that the real pitmen painters started out in the 1930s – I’m old, but I’m not that old.”

Ray left Lynemouth Colliery to work on the assembly line of an Ashington factory before becoming caretaker of Blyth’s South Beach First School, now the site of Bede Academy.

His paintings are now on display in the unusual setting of an Indian restaurant after Ray joined forces with five other artists to launch the North east Arts Campaign (NEAC).

NEAC aims to raise awareness of work that takes its inspiration from the area’s landmarks, and, in a bid to find a new audience, is displaying work in the Raval Luxury Indian restaurant in Gateshead.

Three of Ray’s watercolours are included in the exhibition, including an original depicting Newcastle’s Quayside Market with an £800 price tag.

Ray Said: “To be honest, I’m still gobsmacked people want to pay money for my work.

“I’m just thrilled folk get as much pleasure from viewing it as I do from creating it.”