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Watch: Life and times of Salford’s greatest living artist Harold Riley revealed

Salford’s finest and most respected living artist Harold Riley is captured on film in a new piece of work detailing his 65-year career.

The DVD – on sale now from Riley’s permanent public gallery at Salford Quays’ Lowry Outlet Mall – makes for compelling viewing.

The 81-year-old talks us through the paintings, sketches, photographs, portraits and sketchbooks in which all his work rests, his walks through Swinton Fields with contemporary LS Lowry, his early life training at The Slade in London and his return to his beloved Salford in the 1960s.

As he takes us on a tour of Salford streets I was fascinated to hear his description of the streets as being ‘theatres of colour’.

One in particular stood out to me which he calls simply calls Red Street, which I think is Kingsford Street in Weaste.

We can see the now demolished All Souls Church in the background, however he says that there are reservoirs at the bottom of this street, presumably Winterbottom’s, where even the fish are described as being black.

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Family portraits adorn the gallery walls: his first wife Hannelore who died in 1973; his second wife Ashra; his daughters Kate and Sara looking longingly at a Christmas dinner; his brother Michael playing marbles (or alleys, as he correctly calls them) his Grandfather, “a very hard man”; and his father who smoked 80 cigarettes a day.

We know that Harold was a great friend of LS Lowry and he talks in depth about the man and their trips out around Swinton and Manchester with some stunning photographs at his studio, the former rent collecter gently falling asleep with his spectacles in his hands.

Watch: SalfordOnline.com granted exclusive access interview with Harold Riley – Part 1

Another painting which really caught my attention was of a flowering tree, which if you look closely, the buds are the faces of young children.

This was painted for Francis House, a hospice for young children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.

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Sir Alex Ferguson, a good friend of Harold’s, posed on the balcony of the artist’s apartment on Salford Quays; it has a dreamlike quality which is hard to put down in words.

Nelson Mandela also sat for Harold for a series of sketches and portraits – in fact Harold is the only artist Mandela posed for.

The painting was later sold for $1m at the Rockefeller Centre in New York with all proceeds going to towards the cost of a new school in the South African townships, a magnificent gesture.

For me the highlights are the paintings and sketches of the streets of Salford where the street lights “are always orange” the blues and greys figure strongly as the once sooty and grimy walkways make their mark.

The intimacy of the paintings are a joy to behold: the small children sat wide-eyed, elderly people in shawls in clogs trudging the streets; Riley is a truly amazing talent and we should be proud of this man.

Harold so perfectly captured Salford that his love shines through, but I kept getting the nagging feeling that this film and retrospective was Harold’s way of saying farewell to the paintbrush and easel, I do hope that I am wrong.

You can make up your own mind, but I would urge you to buy this DVD which is available from the Riley Gallery at the Lowry Outlet Mall on Salford Quays or from the Riley Archive online priced £15.

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.