WIGAN’S most celebrated artist has finally got his own exhibition - on the ceiling of a pub!
It is now 23 years since J Lawrence Isherwood died and yet, despite his cultural stock’s growing immensely over that period, there has never been a permanent display of his work either in his home town or anywhere else.
That, however, has now changed thanks to a life-long fan and one of the biggest collectors of his works.
Pub and club owner Tony Callaghan has caused quite a stir - and few stiff necks - by fixing more than 60 of his beloved Isherwood paintings to the vaulted ceiling of his Little Fifteen bar in Wigan town centre.
Purists may disapprove that they are not comfortably spaced and well illuminated on a wall at eye level, but Mr Callaghan said he has security issues to consider.
When the prolific Isherwood was alive he was selling his paintings for next to nothing, even giving them away. These days they change hands for thousands of pounds and the remainder of the bar chief’s 294-strong collection is kept in a bank vault (he has sold around 50 for healthy sums over the years, he says).
But neither the collecting nor the exhibition is a purely commercial venture.
Mr Callaghan’s links with the artist and an interest in his work go back to his childhood. The 51-year-old said: “My mum and dad used to have a fish and chip shop in Earl Street, Swinley, and Isherwood used to come in and either do a bit of decorating or paint them a picture in exchange for a fish supper.
“I was about seven or eight then and I remember this eccentric bloke who pestered my dad to let him do a Coronation Street mural on the wall of the shop. He did it but then my parents didn’t like it - or at least they didn’t think it appropriate for a takeaway - and so they painted over it!
“There was no fall-out over this though and I kept bumping into him afterwards. In the late 1970s I came across an Isherwood at a car boot sale, bought it and from then on started collecting. I was buying them from different people for £20 or £30 and then bought quite a lot from his sister-in-law Molly.
“It may have been deep down in my mind that perhaps one day they would be valuable, but I genuinely acquired them because I liked them. They are very colourful, original, varied and sometimes a bit naughty too!
“I have got all types including some very unusual ones of nuns and clowns, there is stuff from his time in Malta and particularly good ones of Gandhi and Aintree.
“Isherwood paintings have become valuable now and so my paintings have been kept under lock and key. But they deserve to be on show and it’s ridiculous that there hasn’t been a permanent exhibition anywhere of Isherwood’s work.
“To address this I thought I could put some up in the Wallgate Little Fifteen. No doubt I will get some earache about where I have put them. But obviously you don’t want people tearing them off the walls and running out so we fixed them on the ceiling which is quite high. It took half a day to get them all up.”
And as word spreads about the unusual display, it has become quite a talking point.
Mr Callaghan said: “One way to view them is by lying on the floor. But I went in the other day and there were two elderly ladies craning their necks so I offered them a deckchair.
“They remembered Isherwood themselves so it provoked a good chat and generally I am getting a positive response and a lot of interest.”