Colin Jellicoe, the Manchester artist and gallery owner has recently died aged 75
Colin was born on the 1st November 1942 in Manchester. He would often tell me that L.S. Lowry had died on the 1st November too. Lowry had dropped into the Colin Jellicoe Gallery unannounced in the early 1970s, and the chair he sat in would forever be referred to as “The Lowry Chair”. It was looking a little tired in recent years and the thin leopard-print cushion had seen better days, but it was very Colin.
I got to know him properly in the early 2000s. I’d visited his gallery occasionally prior to this but around this time I took a job in the Northern Quarter in Manchester centre, and had the opportunity to walk down Portland Street once or twice a week on my lunch break and head down the narrow steps to be warmly greeted. He would often be found sat at his desk, reading or typing away (he had progressed to an electric typewriter, though never a computer). “How are you, Colin?” I would ask. “I’m still here”, the standard reply.
We spoke about pretty much everything, but usually always art-related. Colin had seen such a vast number of artists through his doors it was staggering. The history of the gallery itself, Colin’s own art, his famous friends, all discussed in 45-minute sessions before I power walked back to Tariff Street to continue with the day job.
Colin studied art at Heald Place Secondary Modern school in the mid 1950s with Keith Pepper, and then at the Regional College of Art Manchester in 1959, where he met his lifelong friend, Geoffrey Key. They would paint together in Platt Fields in the early 60s. Geoffrey has become one of the most successful artists in the north of England.
His childhood memories made a lasting impression on his own art and indeed his eternal love of American films, comics and B-Westerns. In the late 1940s and early 50s Colin would regularly visit the local Rusholme cinemas with his beloved mother, Evelyn May, and he became interested in items relating to the movies he was watching on screen.
The books and comics he collected stirred a love for illustration which continued his entire life. Some of his favourites being the works of UK illustrators Harry Bishop, Geoff Campion, Stephen Chapman, D.C. Eyles, Walt Howarth, Frank Humphries, Frank Hampson, Denis McLoughlin, and the US illustrators Nicholas Firfires, Til Goodman, Albert Micale, Fred Harman, Fan Spiegle, Jose Luis Salinas and Doug Wildey.
By the mid 1960s Colin began work on his first figure series, paintings of people in canteens and coffee bars. These developed into a series of semi-abstract figures in landscape. The Tib Lane Gallery in Manchester held an exhibition in 1965 of the work of Neil Dallas Brown and this made an big impression on Colin. Keith Vaughan and Francis Bacon were other influences at this time. Years later Colin spotted Bacon in a London street and followed him to a pub, but was too nervous to go in and meet him.
Illustration, films and film stills influenced the paintings from the the mid 1970s. A series of beaches, rooms, lovers, nudes and portraits would evolve into baron Western landscapes with odd trees, riders, rooms and lovers.
Colin started to use reference photographs of himself and women in parks and woodland. In the early 1990s this was developed further with the use of costumes, an idea drawn from the working methods of many artists and illustrators whom he admired. This led to the development of his own storyboard style artwork. His paintings were like stills from a western, Colin, dressed as a cowboy (CJ Searcher), would be painted into his own movie scenes alongside beautiful female co-stars in a cinematically stylised world. He worked in acrylic now and often explored this new process further by framing several of this works in a story-telling sequence like a comic strip. These romantically told stories and stills were the main focus of his painting for the rest of his life.
Colin exhibited himself, of course, in his own gallery for his entire career. There were also various solo exhibitions in the north including Manchester Art Gallery, Salford, Stockport and Buxton, as well as mixed shows and opens. He was proud to get into the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on more than one occasion. Colin was a long-standing member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Art (MAFA) and had exhibited in their shows too. His last mixed exhibition with MAFA was at Stockport Gallery in 2017 and opened, fittingly, by his friend David Lee. His work has a number of collectors in the UK and is in the permanent collection of The University on Manchester.
In the early 1960s Colin felt that there was little opportunity in Manchester for artists to exhibit their work commercially. After a year at the Regional College of Art he had started working in a bakery but soon set a plan in motion that would lead to a 55 year career selling art. Colin’s mother found a location that was felt suitable enough (and cheap enough) to open as a gallery. The site was a two storey building at 552 Claremont Road, Manchester, not far from where he lived. He took two rooms on the top floor, and with the help of his artist friend Geoffrey Key and some financial support from his parents, Evelyn and Eric, The Palette and Chisel gallery launched in April 1963. During the next five years various exhibitions were held by artists including Geoffrey Key (his first solo show, The Natural Image, in August 1964) and Arto Der Haroutunian, as well as selling works by local artists and Colin himself.
Margo Ingham (1918-1978) was a well-known character in the Manchester post-war art scene. She painted and also established the Mid-Day Studios in 1946 with her first husband, the artist, Ned Owens (1918-1990). The Mid-Day was opposite Manchester Art Gallery on Mosley Street and early ‘Salon Des Refuses’ exhibitions included works by artists who had been rejected from the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts annual exhibition there. Ned had stood on the steps of the city gallery and advised the unsuccessful artists to apply for space at the Mid-Day for a hanging fee and one third on sales. This championing of the independent artist was something that drew Margo to Colin’s set-up and she became a frequent visitor to his Claremont Road gallery and purchased several works. Colin felt that Margo thought him as her natural successor. Her Mid-Day closed in 1951 but during its existence had been the most exciting art gallery in the city, holding many mixed exhibitions and solo shows, including L.S. Lowry’s first exhibition in Manchester in 1948.
Margo knew local businessman Alan Behar and introduced him to Colin soon after he had expressed an interest in opening his own gallery. After a few meetings a partnership was struck-up and the Colin Jellicoe Gallery was opened in the basement of Alan’s building at 82 Portland Street, Manchester, in July 1968. For 50 years the relationship between the two men allowed the gallery’s continued existence. Colin worked within the small space, five days a week, as well as painting his own pieces at home. During his Summer and Winter mixed exhibitions he would sell wall-space to artists for a reasonable fee and take a commission from the sales. This allowed artists the opportunity to show work within a gallery in Manchester city centre. There were also many solo and group shows as well as out of town exhibitions in London and the north-west.
The 1970s was possibly the most commercially successful period for the gallery. Certainly many of the artists who showed at this time subsequently gained wider acclaim. Geoffrey Key, John Picking, Trevor Grimshaw, Reg Gardner, Alan Thompson, Arto Der Haroutunian, Granville Atherton, Martin Dobson and many others all had work in the gallery. Thanks to various media support and Colin’s promotional and lobbying skills (“press sheets” that he still made until the very last shows), sales were plentiful. It was a different era and a physical mailing list, as well as adverts and articles in the press, went a long way in generating custom.
In 1973 the gallery lent a few drawings by the northern industrial artist Trevor Grimshaw to Granada Television for a program they were making about the Conservative Political Party Conference taking place in Manchester. The pictures caught the attention of the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and he invited Colin, Trevor and Alan to 10 Downing Street where he agreed to buy two works. The letter from Downing Street was framed with various photographs from the day and had proudly hung near Colin’s desk ever since. The following year Heath visited the gallery and purchased a larger Grimshaw townscape. Colin and Alan delivered this personally to his home in London. The surrounding media publicity led to a surge in demand for work by Trevor Grimshaw and increased interest in the gallery greatly.
Margo Ingham died in 1978. She left some of her collection to Colin in her will and also requested that his gallery sell off her works by L.S. Lowry for the estate. An exhibition was organised in April 1979 which included the Lowry collection, four drawings and two oils. All of the works were sold and the large Mid-Day Studio Oil (20” x 30” – 1951) was bought after a sealed bidding process for £10,000, with the gallery taking a commision from the sales. Colin wrote in the catalogue, “…Margo saw my gallery set-up today on a par with her own thirty years ago. She knew that to run a small gallery for a number of years means struggle, hardship, determination, dedication and the will to survive. This bequest, thanks to Margo, will help me to survive.”
Colin was proud of the many famous faces who visited the gallery over the years. None more so than Ian Mckellen whom he first met in the 1970s when he was in Manchester with the Actors Company. Other names too, including Sheila Reid, John Bennett, Sharon Duce, Robin Ellis, John Woodvine, Windsor Davies, Anna Ford, Ray Gosling, Vince Hill, Norman Jones, Mark McNanus, Pat Phoenix and William Simons.
I attended the gallery’s last exhibition preview in April last year with my friend, the artist, Dave Hartley. It featured the linocuts of Peter Davies and sculpture by Annelise Trelawny. Peter Davies is also a well-known author and critic, and his re-worked, A Northern School, book had included the Colin Jellicoe Gallery, something I know Colin was very proud of. The small gallery was busy that evening and it was good to see Colin as always. I remember that he had remained in his seat for much of the event, greeting people and handing out glasses of wine, he had perhaps seemed a little more frail than usual. I didn’t see him as often as my career had taken me out of Manchester centre by that time.
This year marks 55 years of the gallery, 50 of which have been in the same location, and Colin has been there throughout them all. The gallery changed little in that time and there were painters who showed there for many years. Brenda Proctor still exhibited with Colin after first meeting him (they were an item for a while) in the early 1960s. Some had drifted in, perhaps had a single show there and moved on, or were picked-up by a commercial gallery elsewhere. Colin’s was the first gallery to show works by Clive Head, who in recent times has sold via Marlborough Fine Art in London. They all would remember Colin though, how could they not?
Alan Behar died earlier this year. Without him the gallery would never have been able to survive for such a period and Colin felt a huge amount of gratitude towards his business partner and friend. Between them they had helped to promote art in Manchester for over half a century. Alan’s son, Simon, had become much more involved in recent times and continued the family connection to Colin and the gallery.
In July 2013 I drove Colin to Townley Hall in Burnley where an episode of The Antiques Roadshow was being filmed. Colin had written to the producers and asked in advance if he could bring along his comics and ephemera relating to The Lone Ranger. He went a bit further by offering to dress up as the man himself! The BBC agreed and that day saw Colin meeting Fiona Bruce, recording with Judith Miller and pretty much being the talk of the whole place as he strutted around with his mask and hat on. It was broadcast at the end of 2014 and I stood nervously in the background whilst Colin took centre stage and stole the show. On another occasion he turned up in Anglesey for the day with a friend whilst I was on holiday there with my family. We visited a couple of galleries and had lunch. Colin was always good company.
It often felt like he knew pretty much everyone in Manchester, or at least, they felt that they knew him because so many people had shown work with him or, at some point, been into his gallery. He lived alone and painted surrounded by the works he deemed to be his finest, as well as his comics, movies, books, articles and the large number of items and artworks he had collected over the years.
Colin was a slim, mild mannered man who would wear a denim shirt, neckerchief and expensive cowboy boots to reflect his passion for westerns. He never made it to southern California, to visit Lone Pine and the Gene Autry Museum of the American West, though he daydreamed about it from his basement gallery. The paintings he made offered some sort of physical route into these dreams, a way to ride into the sunset.
Colin never married and there is no known family, certainly none that he spoke of. What has become apparent however since his death and the outpouring of messages, phone calls and online posts, is that he was incredibly loved and cared about. Too many names to mention but all will have a story to tell regarding this Mancunian legend. All the best pal.
Colin Jellicoe, born 1st November 1942; died 25th March 2018.