Joash Woodrow is one of the most interesting figures in Northern Art. Born in Leeds to Polish immigrant parents, he studied initially at Leeds College of Art, after which he served in the army as a cartographer in Egypt from 1945 to 1948.
Following his discharge, he studied drawing and painting at the Royal College of Art from 1950-1953, alongside such illustrious fellow students as Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake and the novelist Len Deighton. However, shortly after leaving he retreated to a life of solitude following a mental-health crisis, returning to his parents’ home in Chapel Allerton, Leeds, where he continued to paint small scale landscapes, still lifes and portraits.
He painted his whole life in isolation but with utter dedication to committing his artistic vision to canvas. Already well versed in 20th century European Modernism from his time at the Royal College of Art, his work was subsequently much influenced by the Picasso exhibition at The Tate in 1960. His unconventional paintings, full of vigour and insight, are painted using bold strokes of thickly impasted paint on all manner of supports from sackcloth to advertising signs, and his work was rooted in his North Leeds community – a melting pot of English, Jewish and Eastern European culture. Indeed, Philip Vann in Galleries magazine described his work as “Some of the most powerfully original and expressive works of the last decades… Just as Lowry is known as the visual poet of Salford and Eardly similarly of the Gorbals, so Woodrow is now being revealed as the surely unrivalled painter of 20th century Leeds”.
The extent of his work was unknown until late in his life, when there was a fire at his home whilst he was suffering from ill health. He agreed to move to sheltered accommodation on the proviso that his family take care of his highly personal life’s work. An archive of some 700 paintings and 3000 drawings were found. Following a chance discovery by artist Christopher P. Wood of a magazine re-worked by Joash in a second-hand bookshop, his work brought to the attention of Harrogate gallery owner Andrew Stewart, who would bring the archive to the public with the support of the Woodrow family.
This significant body of work was exhibited for the first time in Harrogate in 2002 and shortly afterwards had their first exhibition at a public gallery at the Leeds Art Gallery. Since then, his work has received widespread acclaim and paintings are held in numerous important private and public collections.
In a short period of time, Joash’s powerful paintings have seen increasing levels of demand at auction. His expressive portraits are particularly favoured, with examples such as a portrait of his brother Saul selling recently for £11,000 (plus buyer’s premium).