An interview with Joe Scarborough

Introducing 'The People's Painter'

One of Yorkshire’s best loved treasures, you may have seen Joe Scarborough’s name alongside other ‘Sheffield Legends’ such as Sean Bean and Gordon Banks on the city’s Walk of Fame.


One of Yorkshire’s best loved treasures, you may have seen Joe Scarborough’s name alongside other ‘Sheffield Legends’ such as Sean Bean and Gordon Banks on the city’s Walk of Fame. Born in 1938, Joe is South Yorkshire born and bred, with Sheffield remaining his home to this day.

A charismatic and charming character, he has enjoyed an idyllic lifestyle living aboard his narrowboat for over two decades, where he happily paints his masterpieces with a glass of wine at his side.

Credit: Joe Scarborough Art

However, Joe’s story hasn’t always been quite as unruffled as it may appear in the present day. Like anyone with a passion, it took patience, perseverance, and a lot of hard work for him to become the established artist he is today. From working in a tinned peas factory at the age of 16, to going down the coal pits at the Thorpe Hesley colliery on the Wentworth estate, Scarborough has lived a colourful life. In fact, it was colour that first inspired him to paint. After long hours in the darkness of the mines, it was the first few moments upon resurfacing where the light and colours of the Wentworth landscape appeared most vibrant, and it was this experience that led him to create the distinctive technicolour world of his paintings.

Joe began his painting career by painting ships, having spent a period working in Hull surrounded by the ferries, inspiring him to become a maritime artist. However, Joe was not the only person doing this, and with his first painting selling for just £5, he quickly realised that if he was to make a living from his work, he would have to change his approach. Jokingly admitting that he had to paint to keep the bailiffs away, it was important that his work sold if he wished to make a living from it as he did, and so he worked to ensure that he was painting things that would sell. Having left his job at the mines, he took up various labourer jobs at this time, to enable him to paint early in the mornings and late at night.

Credit: Joe Scarborough Art

Joe’s hard work paid off when he was approached by local businessman, Cyril Caplin, who offered him £35 per week over a two-year period for him to paint full time. Over that period, Joe was able to learn from Caplin and the artists he introduced him to, and by the end of the period, he had produced between 70-80 paintings. Unlike ever before, the world opened up to Joe, and he was finally given the freedom to paint what he wanted, and experiment with his style.  

Joe developed his own distinct style, often depicting day to day life in busy city scenes, working men’s clubs and packed theatres. Looking to test the boundaries of perspective, he realised that horizons would limit his ability to do this, and so none of his paintings contain a horizon. Instead, he cleverly uses buildings, modes of transport and people, all drawn to one scale, to create a foreground and background for his paintings. People are Joe’s passion, and his paintings are an observatory of the comings and goings of the everyday person. Although none of the characters he paints have faces, Joe has the ability to tell their stories through various tableaux within each painting. You may even recognise some of his characters from different pieces. To depict the journey of life, Joe often reintroduces the same characters in different scenarios in order to show their individual journeys.

Joe unveiling commissioned painting for Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park with with Lord Mayor Coun Gail Smith

Credit: Yorkshire Post

In recent years, Joe’s work has seen a huge increase in attention and popularity, not just across Yorkshire, but across the world too. His fast-growing artist profile has made him somewhat of a local celebrity in his native Sheffield. Last year, Joe was commissioned to produce a major piece to commemorate the completion of the first development phase of the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park. In true Joe style, the piece not only celebrates the park but also the city itself which he is a proud part of. He incorporated key elements of the city’s fabric into the painting, including The Children’s Hospital Charity, of which he does much work for, and Sheffield Hallam University where a number of his paintings are displayed.

Dawsons are extremely proud and honoured to have been given exclusive access to Joe’s paintings and we are excited to be taking a number of them to auction in future sales. Our paintings specialist, Matthew Coles, was recently invited aboard Joe’s narrowboat to talk to him about his work. The full interview can be viewed below. We hope you enjoy listening to Joe’s fascinating tales as much as we did.