Laura Gascoigne

Solitary ambition

Also at Ben Uri Gallery, 108a Boundary Road, London NW8, until 19 November

Four years ago, the painter Christopher P. Wood was browsing in a second-hand bookshop in Harrogate when he came across something very unusual. Opening one of a series of Victorian Magazines of Art, he discovered that the inside was full of drawings, scrawled over both the text and illustrations. They were obviously not the doodles of a child, but the work of a trained artist — albeit one who had absorbed Picasso’s lesson of relearning how to draw like his younger self. The handwriting was witty and literate, revealing a thorough knowledge of modern art.

When Wood showed the book to the art conservator and curator Andrew Stewart, Stewart went straight back to the shop for the remaining six books, which he learned were part of a lot cleared from a house in north Leeds recently vacated by an artist called Joash Woodrow. Visiting the house, he found it stacked to the rafters with a fire-damaged, pipe tobacco-stained hoard of 750 paintings and some 4,000 drawings, the accumulation of 40 years of work.

The child of Polish immigrants, Joash Woodrow had won a scholarship in 1950 to the Royal College, where he overlapped with Frank Auerbach and the Kitchen Sink Painters and was taught by Carel Weight, Ruskin Spear and Robert Buhler. Though he impressed his teachers, he made no mark on his contemporaries, and after a nervous breakdown in the mid-Fifties returned home to Leeds to paint himself into an increasingly solitary corner.

The rest is not yet, but may soon become, history with the help of a book by the art historian Nicholas Usherwood and a touring exhibition now in London at the Ben Uri Gallery and — for this week only — at the Royal College, which is accommodating the biggest paintings.

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