Leeds pensioner Roy is picture perfect

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At the age of 83 and suffering from dementia, Roy Gibson’s days of properly indulging his much-loved hobby of painting are sadly behind him.

The impressive array of artwork he created over a period of nearly 50 years, however, remains as vibrant and colourful as it always was.

This week, more than 30 of his pictures went on display in an exhibition at Leeds’s Seacroft Grange Care Village, where the widower is a resident.

And yesterday staff touchingly told how Roy, despite his condition, recognises that his work has been given pride of place on the walls of the home.

Seacroft Grange activities leader Iria Cunha said: “He will say to us ‘I made these’. He cannot paint like he used to but he still takes part in our art activity classes.

“You can see from the way he holds the pencil and moves it across the paper that the talent is still in there.”

Roy, a former graphic artist with the Yorkshire Electricity Board, lived in Cross Gates before moving into Seacroft Grange in January.

Iria hit upon the idea of the exhibition with Roy’s long-time friend and former carer Shelly Clark.

Although a few of his paintings were already up in his room, the rest have until now been in storage at Shelly’s home or with members of his family.

Shelly told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “It’s been great to see the difference the exhibition has made for Roy. He found it all a bit overwhelming, I think, when it opened on Tuesday but he has got used to the idea since then!

“I think he knows it is his work but he finds it hard to put that into words, which is a little bit heartbreaking for everybody.

“This has been a real boost for him, though. When he first moved in he didn’t want to come out of his room or join in with activities. The exhibition has changed all that.”

Roy used oil pastels to craft his character-filled depictions of mainly Yorkshire landscapes and people.

Shelly has been told how, when he went on a day trip or a holiday, he would often take his painting materials with him to record the occasion.

The results were stunning, although his work – which covers the years from when he was a young man up to his late 60s – is not thought to have previously been the subject of an exhibition.

Places shown in his pictures include Roundhay Park in Leeds, a church in Addingham, near Ilkley, the river at Knaresborough and the harbour at Whitby.

Poignantly, some feature his late wife Betty. Most carry Roy’s name in neat capitals in their bottom right hand corner.

Seacroft Grange’s operations director Kim Malcolm said: “We believe that activities are a key element of care and promote overall well-being.

“By sharing each person’s memories and recognising their lifetime achievements, they feel valued and interesting and begin engaging with people and enjoying the interaction.

“Putting on the exhibition has proved the perfect way to help Roy settle in and for the other residents to get to know him better.”

Born in Heckmondwike in 1932, Roy won a county minor art scholarship aged just 12.

But his talents were not confined to the world of easel and brush – he was also a keen sportsman, playing football for Millbridge Old Boys, Gomersal Mills and Brook Sport.

Nicknamed ‘Top Dog’ by his peers, he set a Spen Valley League record by scoring 124 goals in a single season. Cricket and bowls were among the other games at which he excelled.

The Seacroft Grange exhibition – entitled Roy Gibson, The Man Behind The Paintings! – also pays tribute to his sporting exploits.

Match reports and photographs taken from local newspapers and carefully kept by Roy in a scrapbook have been copied, blown up and given their own wall space.

Headlines such as ‘Ten goal Gibson’ and ‘Gibson netted winner 90 seconds from end’ tell their own tale of famous victories of the 1950s and 60s.

Yesterday Roy, immaculately turned out in jacket and tie and wearing his favourite baseball cap, joined the YEP at the exhibition. “My friends,” he said at one stage, looking at a team line-up.

Then, turning to the back of his scrapbook, he produced an old copy of a fondly-remembered football comic.

Pointing to the title, he said quietly but with a justifiable sense of achievement: “That’s me... Roy of the Rovers.” Champion, Roy, just champion.

Daniel Brown.

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