Received Wisdom – Online Exhibition

Received Wisdom is a thought provoking exhibition that takes its title from an artwork of the same name by artist Amikam Toren which poses the question – Who is deemed ‘creative’?

In the first of our brand-new series of Arts Council Collection National Partner exhibitions, Received Wisdom challenges the notion that creativity, boundary-breaking and dynamism are the preserve of youth. The exhibition presents a body of work created by artists working in their later years and challenges ideas about what is expected of us at different stages in our lives.

Whilst the exhibition is now closed, you can still explore the exhibition digitally today!

Browse the gallery, learn about some of the artists and their artworks, and download related learning resources for children:


Read more about some of the artists and their work below:

  • John Sheehy - Music in the Frying-Pan Pub Brick Lane in the Sixties

    John Sheehy (born 1944), Music in the Frying-Pan Pub Brick Lane in the Sixties, date unknown, acrylic on suitcase

    John Sheehy was born in South-West Ireland in 1949. He moved to London in the late 1950s, where he worked as a builder and roofer, but endured spells of unemployment and homelessness. He first began painting at the age of 51, encouraged by The Big Issue arts group. Since then he has produced a vast body of work, which includes painting, printmaking and sculpture, in addition to playwriting, poetry and music. He considers this collection a single, total narrative.

    Sheehy’s paintings range between portraits, landscapes and the purely abstract. The pace at which he produces work is rapid, even his largest paintings (some 10 by 20 feet in size) take less than an hour to complete. He creates with a sense of urgency, immersed in the act of making and its therapeutic benefits. ‘Art helps me – it’s crucial, necessary; gets me through the day, gets me through the night,’ he says. ‘It’s a friend to me – a big time friend.’

    With reference to both rural Ireland and London street scenes, Sheehy’s works detail seemingly familiar or everyday moments. He frequently returns to subjects which might initially appear folksy: sailing ships, terraced houses, shoe-shiners and chimney sweeps; however, when repeated across numerous works they gain a talismanic, otherworldly character. In particular, the recurring image of a watchful rider on horseback, as in Quickest Quickly (year unknown), functions as a representation of the artist himself. Rather than nostalgic, these works are a record of lived experience.

  • Rose Wylie - Girl on Liner

    Rose Wylie (born 1934), Girl on Liner, 1996, oil on canvas


    Image credit: Rose Wylie, Girl on Liner, 1996. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

    When Rose Wylie completed her studies at Folkestone and Dover School of Art, she got married, started a family and stopped painting for twenty years.

    She was in her seventies when her art started to receive recognition from the art world.
    She said, “One dealer said to me ‘anyone who puts you into the art fairs is very brave because it’s about youth’. You have to be a young person. [The art world] is absolutely obsessed with youth, which is a shame because once you’ve had early acceptance it is difficult to maintain it. You become a product. I think that’s when depression settles in. If you’ve never had it, you’ve got nothing to lose.”


  • Mary Webb - Spring Colour Study No.19

    Mary Webb (born 1939) Spring Colour Study No.19, 1995, oil on canvas

    Mary Webb (b. London, 1939), studied Fine Art at Newcastle University (1958-63), under the supervision of Richard Hamilton and Victor Pasmore, before completing her postgraduate studies at Chelsea School of Art in 1964.

    Whilst studying, Webb and her fellow students visited the New American Painting show at the Tate Gallery, London. The monumental scale and colour of the works had a profound effect on Webb and this influence can still be seen throughout her practice.

    Webb has dedicated her art practice, spanning almost six decades to date, to the exploration of the abstract form through painting, printmaking and collage.

    At the core of her work lies the relationship between colour and form, and an exploration of abstraction. She says, ‘Colour is my main concern, and the emotional and spatial sensations it can evoke, frequently linked to the memory of place…’

    Image credit: Mary Webb, Spring Colour Study No.19, 1995. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

  • John Stezaker - Pair V

    John Stezaker (born 1949) Pair V, 2007 Collage

    John Stezaker, Pair V, 2007. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

    Pair V and Mask LXIV are part of an ongoing series where Stezaker strategically places landscape postcards over film stills and portraits of actors.

    Here, he has chosen to place a coloured landscape postcard over a black and white film still of a couple. He has positioned the postcard so that the viewer cannot see the actors’ faces.

    Stezaker has said that the series was ‘inspired by reading Elias Canetti’s essay on masks and unmasking in ‘Crowds and Power’… I was also teaching a course on Bataille and the origins of art which focused on the mask as the origin and point of convergence of all the arts.’

    Image credit: John Stezaker, Pair V, 2007. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

  • David Medalla - A Prophecy

    David Medalla (born 1942), A Prophecy, 1989, oil on canvas

    A Prophecy sees David Medalla in the centre of the painting. There are fragments of scripts from across the world dispersed over the picture.

    The text behind the artist’s head translates as, ‘A prophecy in the shadow of the Great Arch in Paris, 14 July 1989. I see the future time when the illiterate ones will emerge from the age of darkness and recover from the phoenix’s nest and golden letters of sacred words secretly emitted by the sun.’

    The painting brings together several strands in Medalla’s previous work; performances, photography and paintings of himself in discussion with friends, poets and historical figures and also his African Liberation series of drawings that are based on the anti-colonial struggles.

    Image credit:

  • Amikan Toren - Received Wisdom

    Amikan Toren (born 1945), Received Wisdom, 2006 Plywood, metal and vinyl

    Since the 1970s, Amikan Toren has produced art that looks at the relationship between form and content, object and representation, and between the languages of sculpture and painting. He uses everyday and overlooked objects.

    Through acts of addition and subtraction, with destruction and reconstruction, he leads us to properly look at what is actually there in front of us.

    Received Wisdom sees Toren add a tower of boards destroying the desk’s original function. According to the artist, the extraordinary form that emerges out of such a mundane object serves to create ‘a perfect, symbiotic relationship between form and content, between the uneducated and the enlightened, the power of knowledge and its vulnerability, the rough and the smooth, the totally uninspired and the brilliance of imagination.’

    Image credit: Amikam Toren, Received Wisdom, 2006. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist



Creative Challenge: Make a paper doll chain of the girl on liner and her friends, dressed for a party on the ship.
Download the worksheet with instructions here: Creative Challenge Girl on Liner
You will need: A4 paper,  coloured pencils or colouring pens, scissors

Creative Challenge: Spring Collage
Download the worksheet with instructions here: Creative Challenge Spring Collage
You will need: 
A4 paper/card, coloured pens, scissors, glue

Creative Challenge: Create a self-portrait which symbolizes a prophecy about life in Sunderland after COVID 19.
Suitable for ages 10 +
* Note for parents and carers – see end of worksheet
Download the full worksheet here: Creative Challenge A Prophecy
You will need: A4 / A3 paper, cardboard, newspaper or whatever you have available. Pastels, paint, pens, markers, crayons, colouring pencils

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