Steel Works – An Exhibition of Paintings by Tom French
Venue: The Heritage Gallery at Cargo Fleet
When: 08/12/2011 – 18/01/2012
Paying tribute to the working people of Teesside and the industrial heritage of this area, Tom French’s works will be displayed in the gallery to coincide with SSI’s hopes to relight the blast furnace at Redcar, on Thursday 8th December.
I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to exhibit my work at the Heritage Gallery in the superbly renovated building that once housed the offices of the Cargo Fleet Steelworks. I served an apprenticeship at Cargo Fleet many years ago, as a Fitter and Turner. I have many warm memories of that time: particularly of the friends, colleagues and characters that I met. I remember the old offices well, but when I looked at the derelict building some time ago I feared that it would inevitably be demolished – effectively removing all evidence that a steelworks had existed on the site. So I very much welcome Python’s splendid restoration of a very fine building.
Following my apprenticeship, I spent around 40 years in the engineering industry. My passion for art was originally sparked by being loaned a biography of the sculptor Auguste Rodin when working night shift in the rolling mill at Cleveland Works. My industrial experiences here on Teesside have always had a considerable influence on my painting, especially with regard to the collection in this exhibition, so this location, with its direct link to the industrial heritage of Teesside, is the perfect place for the work to be shown. I am very grateful to the gallery curator, Jodie, for her support, and for her willingness to host the exhibition at such short notice.
I first conceptualised this exhibition when the blast furnace at Redcar shut down. I have produced most of the paintings in the exhibition since then. I wanted to pay tribute to the working people of Teesside who had toiled to provide the world with iron and steel for more than 150 years. Thanks to the efforts of those magnificent people who were not prepared to allow their legacy to be taken away from them the exhibition is taking place in much more positive circumstances than I originally envisaged. It fortuitously coincides with the relighting of the furnace and has therefore become much more than a memorial to our heritage. I would like it to be seen also as a tribute to those charged with continuing the proud tradition of Teesside steelmaking into the future.