It is rather fitting that in his 80th year artist Gary Sampson will be exhibiting a retrospective of his paintings at the Lally Gallery in Ilkeston’s Erewash Museum.
It was John Lally, himself an artist and a teacher at Gladstone Boy’s School in the town, who inspired the Peak District Artisan as an art student.
Gary and his mentor were both born and brought up in Ilkeston albeit a generation apart.
The charismatic ‘Pop’ Lally, as he was known, was a prominent member of the community and chairman of the town’s thriving art club.
He was also a founder member of the Friends of the Erewash Museum – hence the gallery named in his honour.
Gary, a pupil at Hallcroft Boy’s School went on to study Fine Art followed by Ceramics at Derby College of Art and met Lally via the town’s art club.
“John was always a strong supporter of my work and he helped me a great deal.
“He got me interested in the art club’s annual exhibition and I remember being thrilled when I won a premier prize with my work,” explained Gary.
“From then he became a good friend. When I started teaching he also helped enormously with advice.
“That’s one of the reasons I am so delighted that I have the opportunity to return to the town now with this exhibition in his gallery, in the museum he loved. I hope that some people who knew me back then will be able to see the work.”
When he graduated Gary had ambitions to live off his art but, like so many others in his shoes, he needed a more reliable income and he became a teacher – a job he was to continue for 33 years until he took early retirement in 1991. It was only then that Gary fulfilled his ambition of becoming an independent painter and potter.
Back in the 50s Gary was a member of what he described as a progressive artists’ collective The Midland Group of Artists which exhibited in Nottingham and the north of England.
“I have always been grateful for the traditional training I received at Derby, and being a part of the Midlands group meant there was always an impetus to do good work, so I continued to develop my style even though I had a full time job.”
Gary has never been afraid of change and over the years has gone full circle from representational, to semi-abstract, abstract and back to representational again.
The one constant in his work is that he always paints dynamic landscapes inspired by his immediate environment whether it is Ilkeston, Derby or the stunning countryside surrounding the home he shares with his wife Valda – also an artist – at Elton in the Derbyshire Dales.
The beautiful cottage hidden away up a tiny lane needed total renovation when the couple discovered it in 1973.
Undaunted by the task facing them, the couple lived in a caravan while they turned it into the perfect retreat complete with two studios one for painting and another for Gary’s ceramics.
The pottery is in a former cowshed and Gary says that he tends to work in there creating his hugely popular functional stoneware pots during the summer when it is warmer and then spends the winter months painting in his cosier studio.
This winter he has been working on a new painting to add to the exhibition at the Lally Gallery which will include a carefully chosen retrospective of his work from the past 50 years.
Encouraged by Valda, who is a staunch supporter of her husband’s work, Gary staged a one-man show Fifty Years – A Personal View at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery last year and received many plaudits for the paintings.
“It was while I was exhibiting there that I thought I would really like to do the same thing in my home town of Ilkeston – if they would let me,” said the artist modestly.
They said yes, of course, so from February 11 to March 9 Gary will be returning to his roots and will be honouring the man who helped him on his way to becoming one of Derbyshire’s most respected artists.