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Vicki Newman talks to a Sunderland artist about his latest exhibition

Artist Jack Coates says seeing his work on display at the Customs House is an “amazing feeling”.

MY CITY ... artist Jack Coates's exhibition Towards An Autonomous Technique on show at the Custom House Gallery

MY CITY ... artist Jack Coates's exhibition Towards An Autonomous Technique on show at the Custom House Gallery

His collection of drawings and paintings of Newcastle city centre are hanging in the Mill Dam venue’s art gallery in South Shields.

The exhibition, called Towards An Autonomous Technique, includes images of St Mary’s Cathedral, Central Station Metro, the Tyne Bridge, Grey Street, and Dean Street.

Jack, a former head of art at Farringdon Community Sports College in Sunderland, said: “I worked for most of my life as a teacher, but took the opportunity of redundancy and decided to pursue the career I had always wanted.

“This is the fifth exhibition I’ve had and my second at the Customs House and this is by far the best I’ve seen my work looking.

“Seeing it up in a gallery is an amazing feeling and I’m so pleased with how it looks.”

The grandfather-of-six, who lives in Sunderland, works from B&D Studios in Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, alongside other artists.

He said: “I’m really interested in the built environment. I do graphic illustration stuff as well, but that’s not my main focus at the minute.

“These drawings are all of Newcastle, but I’ve gone to places like Florence and Paris as well. I don’t like drawing the typical scenes though.

“For instance, I would never want to draw the Eiffel Tower. I’m more interested in finding the real atmosphere.

“Newcastle is hugely sentimental to me as well and with having the studio there it’s easy to get out there and draw.

“I draw some of them from photographs, or from sketches, but some of them are views out of my studio window, which is quite handy.

“They’re all drawn with pencil or graphite, then coloured with acrylics, watercolours, or anything I can get my hands on.

“The smaller ones will take me about 20 hours to complete and the bigger ones can take up to 30 hours.”

Esen Kaya, curator of visual arts at the Customs House, said: “It is wonderful to support Jack’s practice.

“He came to see me over two years ago and showed me a selection of his work.

“I was immediately struck by his powerful mark-making skills and the combination of how his work is architectural and clearly demonstrates his excellent draughtsman background, yet they also possess a very gestural and painterly aesthetic, which I love.

“Jack had an introductory exhibition in our restaurant a year and a half ago, but was then invited to make new work and larger scale work, for a bigger solo exhibition in our Fusion Gallery spaces.

“I am delighted to see his ideas come to fruition and the journey he has taken over the past year.

“His work is stunning and not the usual urban landscape paintings you would normally expect to see.

“His compositions can best be described as those unnoticed moments when you may glance up and catch a corner of a building, or when you are navigating your way through the streets and notice the detail and colours of interesting architectural buildings.

“They are energetic, playful and unique, and more like drawings than paintings.”

* Towards An Autonomous Technique is on display at the Customs House until June 2.

The gallery is open from 10am to 8pm Monday to Saturday, and 11am to 6pm on Sundays and bank holidays.

Entry is free. For more information, go to, or call the box office on 454 1234.