Artist Tony creates a picture of his home town

Artist Tony Kerins
Artist Tony Kerins
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“The landscape of my childhood had a big impact. It was streams and camps and walls and playing in grass and all that sort of stuff.”

Artist and illustrator Tony Kerins may live in Dorset now, but he has never really left behind his home town of Adlington.

His sketchbooks are filled with easily identifiable images of the area, whether it is the vandalised remains of the tower at Rivington Pike in 1973 or a street scene of Park Road in Adlington.

Many of the pictures were created in his youth or during his visits back to the town to see his family, while others are done from his vivid memories.

And the artwork of his home town and surrounding scenes from across the borough form part of a new exhibition at Astley Hall Museum And Art Gallery.

Tony, 60, said: “It’s definitely good to have my work on display in my home town.”

Tony grew up in Adlington and his family worked in the town’s industry, in mills, pits and at the nearby Horwich Loco Works.

He attended St Joseph’s Primary School and fell in love with drawing as a youngster.

Tony said: “From a really young age, I remember always doing it. I remember getting fed up of colouring in and not liking the waxiness of the crayons.

“I remember an auntie encouraging me when I was quite small.

“It’s something I think I just did as a small child.

“I remember asking my dad questions like how to draw a map.”

As a youngster, Tony would roam around Adlington while playing with his friends.

But at the time the village was not the inspiration for his artwork.

“I felt I was drawing stuff in the adult world that I was reading about in comics,” he said.

“I was drawing from sea stories and my mum would say: ‘Not another ship’.”

There was one moment when Tony recalls realising he wanted to take art more seriously.

He said: “I remember going to the Lake District at 14 and doing a watercolour. It was the first time I had used watercolours.

“We were staying at a place just above Grasmere.

“It was all bunk beds and gas lights

and really ridiculously old-fashioned.

“I remember looking out of the window and seeing the line of the hills and drawing it from the window.

“I felt like that was what I was going to do and I was going to go to art school.”

Despite making the decision to be an artist, Tony still had to break the news to his family.

He said: “My parents were basically disappointed that I wanted to go to art college, because they wanted me to go to university and get a proper job.

“They probably voiced their disappointment but they never ever gave me a moment’s thought that I couldn’t do it.”

Tony moved to Manchester to do a foundation degree, then a degree in graphic design.

He followed it with a post-graduate course at the Royal College of Art.

“That was another three years, so I was at art college for seven years.

“It was probably seen as a very indulgent thing to do,” he said.

When he left college, Tony did some freelance illustration work as well as some part-time teaching.

He was able to earn enough to make a living, but his career as an artist did not take off straight away.

Tony said: “I wanted to be used by art directors and for them to see my work and think they would use me.

“But work only started to really improve for me when I asked myself what job I would really like to do.

“What I really wanted to do was illustrate junior fiction. That’s the stuff I had really liked as a child – the storybooks with black and white illustrations.”

Tony decided to write his own book, which was about industrial Lancashire, and did the illustrations for it.

He said: “The story didn’t get published, but the publisher I took it to liked my artwork and he asked me to do a book jacket for Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes.”

It led to Tony doing more book jackets, including for author Penelope Lively and the Swallows And Amazons series by Arthur Ransom.

Tony said: “The thing about being a freelancer is that you are always moaning, either there’s not enough work or that there’s too much work.

“I felt pleased that work was coming and I started to get more book jackets.”

It was as his career was taking off that Tony and his family decided to move away from London.

But he was concerned about the impact that leaving London would have on his work.

Tony said: “We were going to move up North and I was afraid it was too far away and I wouldn’t get work.

“When I had just left Manchester, I had tried to get a couple of jobs in London and I felt like they weren’t taking me seriously because I was ringing from Adlington.”

Instead, they decided to move to Swanage in Dorset in 1986.

“I had been there on a geography trip for school and thought it was another world, largely because of the colour of the sea.

“It was a turquoisey-green when I went,” he said.

“Fortunately the telephone still rang. I really felt like it was a massive, risky thing to go and live in the middle of nowhere.”

As well as continuing with his illustrations, Tony tried his hand at writing again and had his first children’s book, Lost, published in 1990.

He had several more books published in the 1990s and also started doing what he called “interpretation work”.

Tony said: “Usually maps were done as little line things from Ordnance Survey books and people couldn’t read them.

“I said I could make a map interesting by making it look like a picture of the land and that’s the way I went about it.”

Tony did quite a lot of maps, including those on display at Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, and continues to work on them.

He has done a variety of work so far during his career but he continues to be inspired by his home town.

So he is delighted much of it is now on display at the exhibition at Astley Hall.

Tony, who has four children and one grandson, said: “Because I had all these drawings from over the years from coming home, I wanted to show them.

“I had once seen an exhibition in Astley Hall about 15 years ago of a chap who had done paintings on the Western Front. The room was really lovely and the exhibition was really good.

“I contacted them to see if they would be interested and they were.”

The exhibition, called From Rivington Pike, features scenes of Rivington Pile and the landscape around it.

There are also paintings around Chorley, including the Pincroft in Adlington, the canal, the new Rivington View estate and Botany Bay.

And Tony still believes his home town is special.

He said: “I thought the place was special when I was growing up and I think it really it.

“Although in my head it was special, it was also extremely ordinary. It’s just life and where we live.”

n From Rivington Pike runs until Monday, May 26.