Joyce Brown: artist

P1100666‘Red is my favourite colour,” giggles Joyce Brown as she passes her paintings over to me one by one.

“You will have guessed that from what I am wearing and I like to use the colour in my pictures,” she said.

At 78 Joyce has become something of a latter day celebrity in her hometown of Stalybridge because it is only in the last few years that her artwork has gained any recognition.

They started out as a pictorial record of her life for her son to keep, but now people can’t get enough of them and she has had them exhibited in several galleries and art lovers are snapping them up for their collections. She says she has sold 28 originals this year and she still gasps when she recalls that a man once bought ten.

Joyce paints from her childhood memories in naïve style. Each picture is accompanied by a handwritten note telling the tale of what is going on.

The collection is a fascinating insight into life in an edge-of-The Peak District mill town in the first half of the last century. The hardship, the war, the fun, family life and community life. It is all there recorded in painstaking detail.

“I have always painted. I started when I was five and my daddy showed me how to do it,” she explained. Her talent saw her go to art college and end up working in the textile industry at a mill in Glossop helping to produce printed fabric.

But as happened in times gone by, Joyce gave up her job to become a full time mother to her son Anthony.

“The reason I started painting like this was because he wasn’t interested in listening to my stories about the past.

“My late husband Ron always encouraged me to paint and he said to me ‘You’re an artist. Why don’t you paint the stories for him?’ And that’s exactly what I did. I think he has about 100 of them now and he won’t part with them.”

The paintings Joyce exhibits and sells are all all originals as she simply repeats each one again but with some subtle differences.

“One woman asked me to paint one of them with a poodle in place of the cat and so I did that for her. Sometimes I simply move things about in the room,” she explained.

“When I paint I like to bring the stories to life and now I have started giving talks to groups. They love to hear my stories as well as see the paintings.”

It was a hospital stay after a car crash and an anonymous benefactor who first helped bring Joyce’s paintings to the attention of a wider audience.

“I was in hospital for a week and of course I got bored, so I asked for my paints. When the sister saw the paintings she insisted I took them to show the other ladies on the ward. She even brought the doctors around to look at them. I was very honoured. The lady in the next bed said I should exhibit them but I explained it was too expensive to hire the library to put them on display. A month or so later I got a call from Stalybridge Library saying someone had paid for me to have an exhibition. She made them promise never to tell me her name  – and I still don’t know who she was.”

This encouraged Joyce to gain more exposure and she agreed to be part of a display in the Stalybridge Art Shop. She cheekily offered up two paintings for the exhibition instead of the requested single picture and didn’t expect anything to come of it, but that was when she was first noticed by artist Erika Robertson, who is one of the directors of the Smithy Studios in Glossop.

“I had forgotten all about the pictures and when I remembered to telephone to say I would come and collect them the woman said ‘you’ll only be collecting one because an American lady has bought one and she wants to meet you’. By the time I did get to meet Erika, she had bought the second one as well. They were the first paintings I sold.”

Now the artists are firm friends.

“She has been wonderful to me and helped me exhibit the paintings. I couldn’t have done it without her,” she said.

A Joyce Brown exhibition is currently being staged at the Smithy Studios and Erika says that she considers both Joyce and her work to be incredible.

“She is an amazingly talented woman and I just love her work. It is a wonderful record of that period in history at Stalybridge and we are delighted to be able to exhibit it here at Glossop,” she said.