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Romance is in the air for couples at The Atkinson in Southport

PUBLISHED: 14:03 11 October 2013 | UPDATED: 20:55 21 October 2015

The Atkinson, Southport

The Atkinson, Southport

Len Grant

There must be something in the Southport air - couples are sharing their romantic stories at The Atkinson. Roger Borrell reports

Emma Anderson, The Atkinsons Director Emma Anderson, The Atkinsons Director

The old music hall song tells us we do love to be beside the seaside. But in Southport, we are about to hear a lot more about people who fell in love beside the seaside.

These are stories that will make a Mills & Boon bodice-ripper seem like a chaste peck on the cheek as couples reveal the extraordinary twists and turns of romantic encounters that, like all the best love stories, have happy endings.

He was her brother’s best friend, seven years older than her. She had a crush on him but it took them 30 years to be reunited through Facebook.

She was standing forlorn on a Southport dance floor when they met. It seemed like love and she wrote her phone number in lipstick on the back of a Polo wrapper. By the next morning, the number was smudged and unreadable.

He whisked her off to Ireland on the night ferry. But her father forced them apart. She went to London and became a Bunny Girl and it took them almost 40 years to get back together.

These and many other true life romances, some featured in these pages, form the core of a stunning new exhibition called Love Stories: Romance, Obsession & Heartbreak. It is one of the main curtain-raisers at The Atkinson, the reborn cultural hub of Southport.

It has taken three years and several millions to turn a landmark building, itself once in need of some love and attention, into Lancashire’s most exciting new art destinations.

Its official opening is due in mid-November, but Love Stories is up and running displaying romance in its many forms, from stunning works from The Atkinson’s own collections alongside dramatic and provocative works by leading contemporary artists including Tracey Emin and Jordon Baseman. Emin’s work is particularly apt - a Valentine’s card in flashing neon.

This unusual exhibition explores love and loss in five stages: flirtation and courtship; the choice; marriage; obsession and betrayal and, finally, contentment. A broad spectrum of art is used to chart this journey, from traditional oil paintings to contemporary installations such as a night club in miniature, built in breezeblocks and complete with beating dance music.

The beautiful new exhibition spaces in this grand Victorian building on Lord Street will also show off some of The Atkinson’s gems such as John Collier’s epic ‘Lilith’ oil painting and ‘Tannhäuser in the Venusberg’, William Open’s seductive ‘The Eastern Gown’ and William Roberts’ flirtatious work ‘The Tea Room’.

Emma Anderson, The Atkinson’s Director, said: ‘We didn’t just want The Atkinson to be about the exhibits – we want it to be about the people and part of that deteremination involved putting out a call for unusual or extraordinary love stories.

‘We didn’t have any idea what sort of response we would get but quite a number came forward with memorable stories and we commissioned the award-winning photographer Len Grant to take their pictures for the exhibition.

‘There are some really compelling stories about the power of love and longing and losing touch. They are tragic and life-affirming, involving lovely couples who were prepared to share their experiences.’

Emma points out that in the days when many of the paintings in the collection were created, love and romance could move at an agonisingly glacial pace. ‘Today, although social networking can have some negative aspects, our stories show how things like Facebook can end years of heartache in seconds.’

Emma joined The Atkinson in May after working in senior roles with Manchester galleries and museums and helping to set up the galleries at the Lowry. She still lives in Salford, travelling each day by train to Burscough before cycling the remaining way. ‘It still feels like a dream jobs for me,’ she says.

So is this the start of her own love affair with The Atkinson and Southport. ‘Give it time - I’m still going through the honeymoon period,’ she laughs.

As well as Love Stories, The Atkinson is also exhibiting highlights from its permanent collection, including 17th century portraits, paintings from the Northern school and an exhibition examining the use of light.

It is currently waiting on a decision for Lottery funding which will smooth the way for re-opening the museum on the top floor. This will be home to to some outstanding items, such as the town’s extensive collection of Egyptology.

The Atkinson also has two theatres for plays and concerts, a library and soon there will be a bakery and a shop seeling some of the areas finest arts and crafts. For information about events and exhibitions go to www.theatkinson.co.uk

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