Grandad Hill gives inspiration to artist

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When artist Yelena Popova went shopping to a car boot sale one rainy day and saw a pile of paintings on a stall, she was instantly attracted to them.

The brightly coloured images showed an old colliery and other Nottinghamshire scenes, all done by one artist.

Eager to find out who had done the works Yelena went to an address which had been written on the back of one painting, only to find the son of the painter had once lived there and since moved on. She tracked him down at a forwarding address and was finally put in touch with the artist himself, a man she calls Grandad Hill, an ex-miner in his 90s, now living in a care home.

Yelena was fascinated by the work, his history as a miner, and the breathing problem he seemed to be suffering with.

She saw the parallels with her own work and now Grandad’s paintings can be seen, alongside Yelena’s own, in a new exhibition at NN gallery in Guildhall Road, Northampton.

Yelena’s work focuses on the history of capitalism, with canvasses(entitled The Portrait Gallery) and a video installation (Particulate Matter) exhibited under the title of Nameless Nobles.

The video exhibition includes footage she shot secretly in China showing miners at work, and the environmental results of industry, such as an elderly lady sweeping up concrete dust from around what looks like her home. It also features Grandad Hill, and focuses on his breathing.

Russian-born Yelena, who is also exhibiting at the famous Saatchi Gallery in London, said: “We found the whole family, and Grandad Hill. The reason the paintings ended up on the market is he was moved to an old people’s home. He is amazing and full of life.

“We showed the video in Nottingham and he was so moved. We even got a message from his son to say that he had started painting again.”

She continued: “When I went to China, I thought about what were the most striking things and one of them was the condition of the air. Sometimes you go out and see this smog and you know it isn’t just smoke, it is dust as well, and you know you are breathing it all the time. Then there is this image of the guys working in the colliery.

“It all relates to my purpose of focusing on something which is there and potentially harmful but you can’t see properly, it is elusive and you don’t know how it is affecting people.” The exhibition will run until April 14.