The Canals of Harley Crossley: An Artist’s View of Boats and Waterways by Barbara Crossley

An artist who loved the canals

065 harley crossley

Reviewer: Kathryn Smith

THE Canals of Harley Crossley: An Artist’s View of Boats and Waterways, compiled by the late Harley Crossley’s wife Barbara, is a fitting homage to an artist who loved the canals and whose work was always a popular attraction at waterways festivals.
His paintings, composed using oil paint and palette knives, cover 24 canals, from the Grand Union to Birmingham and the Huddersfield Narrow and as far north as 
the Caledonian.
While the accompanying notes are concise, comprising of a single page prefacing each section of paintings, they are well researched, offering brief historical and industrial backgrounds to the canals in question.
Harley’s pictorial emphasis is on the mimetic and there are no gestures similar to Monet’s treatment of water that inspired the later work of Rothko and the abstract expressionists. Nevertheless, in the field he chose there is no doubt that Harley was a competent master of his craft.
The quality of the reproductions here is extremely good and affords a strong sense of the visceral nature of Harley’s use of knives and oils which one imagines would only be more manifest in the actual works.
In one painting of water overflowing the lock gates on the Rochdale the collision of the vertical and horizontal strokes made by the palette knife make the boiling fury of the water almost tangible.
Harley was one of the founder members of the Guild of Waterways Artists who aim to promote not just waterways art but knowledge of the skills and history of the waterways. The works in this book date from the 1960s which affords a particular appeal in that many of the boats Harley documents are traditional working boats.
Nor does he shy away from depicting the mechanics of waterways life, the warehouses, factories, basins and locks. Indeed the final section of the book includes Harley’s paintings of Kelvin, Bolinder and Russell Newbery engines, which will certainly be of interest to some Towpath Talk readers – you know who you are!
The Canals of Harley Crossley: An Artist’s View of Boats and Waterways by Barbara Crossley is published by Amberley (paperback, 128 pages) and available from www.amberley-books.com priced £19.99. ISBN: 978-1-4456-5432-4

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