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Norman Sayle

Epithet: Artist (1926-2007)

Biography: Norman Sayle is one of the most celebrated Manx artists of recent times. He was born in Douglas in 1926, and he died in the same place in 2007, after 80 years of a life devoted to the Isle of Man. Sayle attended the Douglas School for Boys and the Douglas School of Art and from 1948-1952, he went on to study graphic design at the School of Art, Goldsmith’s College, London University.

For a short time, Sayle taught at Orpington College, Kent - but in 1954, returned to the Isle of Man as an assistant lecturer at the School of Technology, Arts and Crafts in Douglas. Here he stayed for 35 years - the rest of his professional life - until his retirement in 1989. During his time at the school, Sayle had also served as head of the art department and development officer. By the time of his retirement, the school had become known as the Isle of Man College. As a teacher, Sayle was described to have been gifted, charismatic and humorous, often stating that ‘nothing is ever as bad as its painted to be’. He cared deeply about his work and students, to the extent of threatening a local politician with legal action who had made a slighting comment about his students. Sayle inspired generations of students during his long career at the Isle of Man College, and also sat on the Isle of Man Arts Society and the islands Art Council. In 1997, the Courtyard Gallery was opened on the island - a registered charity, patroned by Sayle. Following the artist's death in 2007, the gallery moved into Douglas and renamed in his honour to the Sayle Gallery in 2008, intended as a national contemporary art space. It sadly went into remission just over 10 years later.

Eventual retirement liberated Sayle's true creative capacities. He went on to become a prolific artist, painting landscapes both in the Island and the Mediterranean. Although he also painted in oils and acrylics, watercolour was his favoured medium. He said that he made more from the sale of his first painting after his retirement than he had in total from two evenings of teaching overtime every week during his final year at the college. Sayle's love of the Isle of Man was reflected in his work and he described his paintings as a homage to the Manx landscape:

"My aim is to express my devotion to the Manx countryside, its grey churches, stone circles, slate walls by reconciling three components: the subject matter, the structure and the medium. In the end I want it to look as if the watercolour was speaking of itself."

Churches and chapels were a frequent subject matter for his painting, and his spiritual seeking led him in later life to take an Open University course in philosophy.

Sayle’s main artistic influences included John Sell Cotman, Samuel Palmer, Paul Klee, and Graham Sutherland (who had also been a former student at Goldsmiths College). Sayle's main debt, however, was to his fellow Manx artist Archibald Knox (1864-1933). Sayle found Knox's watercolours in the Manx Museum a constant source of inspiration. Former Director of the British Museum Sir David Wilson was a lifelong friend of Sayle, and said he was a master of painting in watercolours.

"Since my youth I have been afflicted (or blessed) by intense nostalgia, an anxiety and sadness about the passing of time. This Celtic foreboding makes Manx places even more haunted and precious." - Norman Sayle, ‘A Sense of Place’ (1996).

Nationality: Manx

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1926-12-13

Place of birth: Douglas, Isle of Man

Date of death: 2007-09-17

Place of death: Douglas

Name Variant: Sayle, Norman*


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