Tees

Sean Durkin inspired by father's theft of Lowry work

  • 24 June 2014
  • From the section Tees
Sean Durkin and LS Lowry original
Sean Durkin with the painting his father stole in 1972

The son of a man who stole a painting by LS Lowry 42 years ago has mounted his own exhibition of works inspired by the Salford artist.

In 1972, John Durkin was fined after taking the painting - then worth £5,000 - from Middlesbrough Art Gallery.

He said it would only be returned if galleries opened on Sundays "to allow the working man to get some culture".

Four decades on, son Sean has hailed his father's protest as the inspiration for his own artistic career.

Sean Durkin painting
A burglar and a chasing policeman can be seen in every Sean Durkin painting
Sean Durkin artwork
Mr Durkin insists his paintings are not Lowry copies
Newspaper reports of John Durkin's theft of the Lowry painting
The case of his father, John Durkin, was well reported

Sean Durkin's style is similar to Lowry's, but he insists his works are not copies.

"I like to think I'm doing the paintings he never got round to doing himself," he said.

The 50-year-old, from Middlesbrough, incorporates a figure of a burglar being chased by a policeman in all of his paintings in tribute to his father's protest.

"He [his father] was an educated guy and cultured," said Mr Durkin.

"But every time he wanted to take us to see a painting at the local gallery it was closed and it would drive him round the bend.

"So he finally made a stand for the small man and took a painting.

"I remember going downstairs one morning and on the mantelpiece there was this little painting depicting what looked to me like a big house, a church, and some matchstick people scurrying around.

"I didn't know it at the time, but it was a painting Lowry had done of St Hilda's Church and Middlesbrough's old town hall that my father had taken from the gallery the night before.

"He said he would hold the picture ransom until art galleries started opening at a weekend, so that the working man could enjoy some culture.

"At the time the painting would have been worth about £5,000, which was a fortune then, considering we had bought a house for £2,500 that year.

"You couldn't buy a Lowry for less than £250,000 now."

His father John remains unrepentant for what he describes as a "working man's protest" and "practical joke."

He said: "The art gallery was always closed on a weekend. I'd been a few times and just couldn't get it and I thought it was ridiculous.

"So I thought I would take the Lowry as a protest, so I broke in at 1am by smashing a ground floor window and made off in my car.

"But the security guard spotted my car and that's how the police got me."

Sean Durkin's exhibition is being hosted by Middlesbrough's Art House Gallery until 8 August.

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