Sam Being Rejected From The Walker (1974)

Photo credit: Private collection

Sadly, the last surviving member of the five painters featured in this exhibtion passed away in November 2017. Don McKinlay was aged 88 and you can read his Guardian obituary here.


Don McKinlay was dedicated to his artistic practice and seemingly desired little but to work from the moment he woke until the moment he slept. His artwork often depicted the everyday including the people and events that shaped his immediate world and experiences. As such, much of his work was social realist by intent, his painterly nudes often featuring his wife, Jani, herself a successful artist.

McKinlay was born the son of a local crime journalist, in Bootle, Liverpool. He attended the City School of Art in Liverpool between 1946 and 1950 where he developed his taste for Walter Sickert’s painterly photography-based work and was taught lino printing by Wirral Surrealist George Jardine.


He came under the influence of Arthur Ballard, who advised he visit Paris, which brought his attention to contemporary European artists such as Nicolas de Stael, Karel Appel and Antoni Tapies. He developed a non-figurative practice involving impastoed reliefs in wax, wood and oil, and also accompanied Ballard to St Ives.

Like all five artists, McKinlay supported himself financially as an artist through teaching, and from 1960 he pursued the career of a lecturer first at St. Helen's School of Art, then via Henri at Manchester School of Art, moving to the Rossendale Valley in the mid-1960s. He had also introduced Henri and Walsh to scene design work at Liverpool Playhouse.

McKinlay initially experimented with a non-figurative practice involving impastoed refliefs in wax, wood, and oil, and later employed a variety of media including painting, etching and collage. As a recorder of everyday life, you don’t need to read a book about McKinlay or 1960s Liverpool to grasp his journey as an artist: his story and relationships with the other artists is often the subject of his works.


The decision to choose a subject reflective of the artist’s personal experiences was not unusual for these Liverpool artists, as author Peter Davies noted in his discussion of Arthur Ballard’s Punch and Judy series of the early 1970s: “…the earlier work of Cockrill, McKinlay, the blow-up portraits of Walsh, and the work of Henri all showed a tendency to draw directly on autobiographical themes, thereby tapping the rich vein of subjectivity that is at the heart of all art.”

McKinlay exhibited with Adrian Henri and painter/poet Henry Graham as part of a group show at the Bluecoat Gallery in 1959, and had a series of regular solo and two-man shows with Sam Walsh at the gallery from the mid-1970s until well into the 1980s. The Dinner Party was the centrepiece of their 1980 show Going Backwards.

A member and regular exhibitor at the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, McKinlay, who had a five-year relationship with the author Beryl Bainbridge in the late 1960s, can count among his many commissions a crib to accompany the Renaissance sculptor, Della Robbia’s The Kneeling Madonna in the Lady Chapel at Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral.