County Durham art exhibition explores the demise of coal mining and the miners' strike

People look at a painting in the new Last Cage Down exhibition at the Mining Art Gallery
People look at a painting in the new Last Cage Down exhibition at the Mining Art Gallery -Credit:House of Hues/PA

A new art exhibition focused on the fall of coal mining is set to open at Bishop Auckland's Mining Art Gallery. Titled The Last Cage Down, the collection explores the demise of the collieries, recalls poignant moments from the miners' strike and shines a light on the profound effect on local communities.

Starting this Friday (3rd May) and running until October 6th, the presentation is perfectly timed with the 40th anniversary of the powerful 1984-85 miners' strike. It features emotive works that capture the final age of a once booming industry and the life it left behind.

Among the showcased pieces are standouts such as Robert Olley's Orgreave after Guernica, which vividly portrays a tense showdown between picketers and law enforcement officers on 18 June 1984, and Barrie Ormsby's evocative Crucified Miner.

Sharing insight into his artistic motivation, Barrie Ormsby explained: "Before the miners' strikes, most of my paintings were a response to the natural landscape around me, in West Durham, and although I have continued to work with the landscape, the social landscape has come to the fore."

"The artist cooperative I was a part of for 30 years, supported miners and their families during the strike through food distribution."

"Painting helped me process the sociopolitical enormity of the strikes. Through painting and thinking, I understood that this was a conflict between the collective and the communal, and the individual and the state."

"The miners' defeat was the first domino to fall, knocking down the collective efforts of working people one by one from dismantling trade unions to zero contracts. The strikes began 40 years ago but the impact is still felt today."

The exhibition also features pieces from the gallery's own collection, such as Marjorie Arnfield's Women Protesting, a vibrant painting of women protesting with placards against pit closures in the 1980s, and several works from Durham-based coal miner and artist Tom McGuinness.

The Gallery's founders, Gillian Wales and Robert McManners, said: "This exhibition is a poignant reminder of the struggles and resilience of our mining communities."

"Through the eyes of these artists, we are given a window into the turbulent times of the miners' strike and the slow demise of the industry."