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A master is born ... at 81.

HE was friends with LS Lowry - they used to take tea together in the Kardomah - and it was Lowry who told him to go out and paint the iconic northern industrial landscapes before they disappeared. Lowry even sat for him, for what was to be the only portrait painted of the great "matchstick men" artist painted from life.

Now friends of Bill Turner are describing him as the next LS Lowry, although he'll be cross when he reads it in print. But if demand for Turner's paintings is anything to go by, there's no question of it.

I was one of 500 people crammed inside the Clarke Art gallery in Hale, Cheshire, last week for a private view of an exhibition of Bill's pictures and the launch of the first major book dedicated to his life and work. There were a little over 100 paintings on view. By the end of the evening red dots were stuck over most of them like a rash. At the time of writing, 92 were sold, including one to a collector in Malaysia and three to a buyer in Monaco.

And best of all, Bill, now 91, was there to witness the bun fight. It wasn't always like this, though, but it goes to show that persistence pays... eventually.

HIS For years, he had little or no commercial success. From a working class background and largely self-taught, his fortunes changed when he was traced by picture dealer David Gunning, formerly of Rhos on Sea and now proprietor of Todmorden Fine Art, who became his agent. Gunning was also there the other evening to give a speech eulogising about his former protg, and bemoaning the fact that despite selling around 2,500 of Bill's pictures ON The Clarke Art runs at 155 Hale Cheshire, October 16. If afford a painting, book, William by Stuart Archer Cook, priced available from - mostly for prices in three figures - today he doesn't own a single one.

I know how he feels. I've been covering auction sales of northern art for a decade or more - they are a fairly new phenomenon - and I've watched the bidding for Bill's work spiral way out of my reach.

And when the pictures get on to the walls of a smart gallery like Clarke Art, the prices are eyewatering.

I suppose the same was the case with Lowry.

William Ralph Turner was born in 1920 in Chorlton-on-Medlock in Manchester's inner city, but the family moved into a council house in the shadow of Belle Vue Speedway when he was aged one.

His mother, Ethel, who was from Essex, met his father, Ralph, when he was serving as a chef in the Royal Air Force. Ethel died from pneumonia when Bill was five.

Although not an academic, Bill was good at drawing from an early age, although his art teacher refused to recommend him for art school "because my lines were wobbly". They remained so throughout his career. Bill left school with no qualifications at the age of 14 and began a series of dead-end jobs, interrupted by World War II.

He was drafted into the Royal Ordnance Corps as a clerk and started doing drawings of his army pals for sixpence a time.

On leave in 1940, he saw Manchester heavily bombed and later painted The Night that Bannermans Went Up, a shirt factory where he had worked. The foreboding factory buildings set against a blood red sky became a common feature of his work.

After the war he attended a course at Derby Art College and was subsequently offered a job as a trainee manager at Curry's and, on the same day, a place on a teacher training course at Manchester School of Art. He took neither.

That night he saw an "Artists Wanted" ad for a firm of picture colourers in Cheetham Hill and went there instead, working as a "picture faker", airbrushing colour onto black and white photographs, at which he excelled.

By now he was exhibiting his paintings and quickly gained some recognition as an expressionist concentrating on his Lancashire industrial surroundings and portraits of the people who inhabited them. He also "discovered" Stockport's imposing red brick viaduct, which he painted hundreds of times throughout his career.

WORK He met Lowry when the latter was in his 70s - Lowry died before he saw the portrait Bill persuaded him to sit for. The friendship left a lasting impression. There are distinct similarities between the two artists' work but Bill insists his paintings are very different. "His figures are static, I like them to be moving, and the buildings to be doing something," he has said.

SHOW exhibition Ashley Road, until you can't buy the Ralph Turner, and Bill pounds 35 and the gallery.

After a period teaching art at Hulme Hall School, Bill turned to painting full time. Peter Ustinov, Sebastian Coe and Eddie Shah had bought pictures, but commercial success evaded him. Slowly, interest in his work fell away.

The death of his wife Anne in 1988 hit him hard. He sold his house in Cheadle Hulme and moved to Congleton. But by the 1990s he was forced to take in lodgers and hold art classes at home to remain solvent. Throughout it all, however, Bill kept on painting until he had amassed a substantial stockpile of canvases which filled his home.

The turning point came in 2000.

David Gunning had read about Bill in Peter Davies' book A Northern School, but assumed he was dead. Then he saw three of Bill's paintings in the home of a client "which made my hair stand on end".

The artist Geoffrey Key, who Gunning also represented, introduced them, and on visiting Bill at his home, Gunning stumbled on "a dealer's dream" - paintings dating back as far as the 1950s. They attracted buyers immediately and soon demand outstripped supply.

Articles in the Sunday Telegraph magazine, Times and a retrospective loan exhibition at Gallery Oldham organised by Gunning in 2005 was effectively the artist's relaunch.

That he has become so important in the last decade is testament to how powerful and compelling Bill Turner's remarkable paintings are.

HIS WORK ON SHOW The Clarke Art exhibition runs at 155 Ashley Road, Hale Cheshire, until October 16. If you can't afford a painting, buy the book, William Ralph Turner, by Stuart Archer and Bill Cook, priced pounds 35 and available from the gallery.


Tuner's Boat on the River, oil on board, priced pounds 13,000 Bill Tuner's Fleetwood Event (left), oil on board, 1975, and Woman in a Room, 1958, oil on board, are both valued at pounds 13,500 Light in Ellesmere (left), 1980, oil on board, priced at pounds 14,000, and Bill Turner with some of his paintings (right)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 25, 2010
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