Bob Allison at The Art Studio

Bob Allison at The Art Studio.

Everyone connected to the Art Studio in Sunderland will be sad to learn that one of its artists, Bob Allison, passed away recently, aged 71. I received the news from his sister and brother-in-law, who asked me about the artwork he made and his role in the Studio. Anyone who knew Bob realised that he was as serious about his art as he was about life in general, which stemmed from his many years working on the coal face as a miner. His attitude was exemplary.


For people who don’t know about it, The Art Studio was established in Sunderland in 1986 from humble beginnings and had no premises until after its first year. Before that, I, along with another artist, Chris Sell, who worked part-time with me, ran workshops in all sorts of places throughout Sunderland to drum up trade. People who eventually arrived at the Art Studio were often self-referrals or referred by the Health Authority, statutory, social services, and voluntary agencies in Sunderland, as well as from Newcastle, Durham, and regionwide.


The Studio mainly connected with people with troubled pasts by nurturing their profound need for a sense of belonging and an unwavering will to make art, however they wanted to. It is an ethos that evolves over time and is embraced by anyone who cares about having one last chance in life to be the best version of themselves, not only for themselves but also for each other. It became woven into the fabric of the Art Studio, which in turn became woven into the fabric of its members and the larger community. The way it was set up wasn’t pretentious or insincere; it just happened.


When Bob arrived in 1991, we had just moved into a 15,000 sq. ft three-storey red brick building in Hind St., in the centre of the city. SR1 3QD. The Council provided it to us for a peppercorn rent. Bob had his studio on the ground floor, where he painted mainly in oils and did many drawings.


Bob was deeply passionate about his life as a miner and his interests in spiritual art and writings on mythology would influence his choice of subject, colours, and actions on the canvas. His artwork and presence filled his studio, and this helped inspire others to become artists in their own right. He’d often lend a hand in settling new people in and with practical everyday activities like cleaning and washing windows. Additionally, Bob contributed to running outreach demonstrations, and exhibitions. He was with me until I resigned in 2012, and he stayed on a bit longer.


It would be a fitting memorial if someone assisted in locating a home for Bob’s painting. The artwork represents a significant period in Sunderland’s history from the 1980s to the 2000s, where local artists like Bob played a crucial role in inspiring the community to regain hope amidst widespread unemployment and social turmoil that deeply impacted families across Sunderland and the Northeast. Over the years, he and many other member artists helped propel the Art Studio to innovative acclaim, while saving the National Health and Social Care budget £’s thousands.


The Studio has touched many people both near and far, who will cherish fond memories of it and the many artists who worked there. I wish everyone the best of luck and send good wishes for whatever you are doing these days.


Derek Hill

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