It took 30 years for Tony Begolo to rediscover his creative gift. Now he’s making up for lost time as an acclaimed artist, as TONY DEWHURST discovered

TONY Begolo crouches over a striking portrait of Abraham Lincoln, while the arrow-sharp graphite pencil in his right hand brings his interpretation of a faded 1865 photograph of the assassinated American president back to life.

He puts his pencil down for a moment when his tortoise shell cat Raphael, named after the Italian Renaissance painter, jumps up on his lap, disturbing his train of thought briefly.

Begolo is earning global recognition for his striking photorealism work and, for the first time in his life, his art is on public show — at Oxheys Mill Studio exhibition at Preston.

Most recently, his toil has received generous praise from influential art houses in Belgravia, Mayfair and New York, plus Liverpool’s World Museum.

“I’ve never had a professional art lesson in my life and I’ve never drawn or painted since I was a teenager, but suddenly a whole new world is opening up for me again,” he said.

It has, however, proved a sometimes difficult and painful journey for the 55-year-old, who lives and works in Clitheroe.

His face darkens as he recalls standing at his bedroom window and watching his mother burn his artwork on a garden bonfire.

Begolo was 14 and at his most impressionable. It has taken him a generation to revive that youthful passion for art that has now re-ignited his life.

“I had a terrible childhood and when my mother discovered I was drawing — and that was my love — she bundled my drawings up and set to fire to the lot,” he recalled. I couldn’t work again. My dream had been ripped out by what she had done.

“She was going to have the last word and emotionally I was destroyed. She wanted me to be an electrical engineer and I wanted to draw. My mother took everything away from me.”

While he was encouraged to pursue his dream by art teacher Stan Duckworth at Rishton’s Norden School, that early potential was put on hold until Begolo was past 50.

“I never forgot him. Mr Duckworth opened my eyes to what was possible. He was my mentor really and art became my release until my mother destroyed it.”

His home life, he admits, was a very unhappy one.

“I had a difficult upbringing. I was kicked out when I was 16 and I drifted from job to job. I slept on friends’ sofas for six months. I did bar work in Blackburn and had a couple of stints on a building site.

“I was desperate to do something creative, then I got an offer to work as a barber. I ended up running Crop Shop Hairdressers, on Duke’s Brow, for many years and I loved that.”

Then a chance conversation with a colleague at Calderstones Hospital, where he works as a support worker, changed everything.

“I mentioned that I had done a bit of drawing in my youth, and the next day he brought in some old artists’ materials. I opened the box and a passion that had lain dormant for 40 years suddenly came back to life.

“Emotionally, I was still fragile and I didn’t know whether there would be anything left.

“I said to my work colleague, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done.

“I was in a deeply unhappy relationship at the time and discovering art again cost me my marriage.

“But I’ve found love again with a lovely lady called Karina and we got married a few weeks ago.

“She has encouraged my dream and has been an inspiration.

“For the first time in my life I have belief and somebody who believes in me.”

A photorealism artist studies a photograph and then attempts to reproduce the image as realistically as possible in his own drawing style. His portfolio bulges with striking images of the Dalai Lama, Marilyn Monroe, Nelson Mandela, Sir Alex Ferguson and the reggae artist Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

“I research every character I draw, as if I’m going to interview them, and then try and get inside their minds,” said Tony.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re sharing the room with them. Hopefully, the Abraham Lincoln image will be a defining piece.

“It is a contemporary image from an antique photo 150 years old and I find that fascinating.”

It is a hand-to-mouth operation, though. His tiny kitchen doubles as his studio but breaking into the world of mainstream art is an uphill struggle.

“I’ve taken my art to galleries and they’ve said, ‘Where did you do your degree, Tony? What art school did you go to?

“When I tell them I never studied professionally, the usual reply is, ‘Oh well, that’s a non-starter then.’ “It is wonderful to be working as an artist, but getting through the layers and selling your work is another matter.”

Last month, the International Guild of Realists invited him to be a member of their exclusive worldwide club.

“To be accepted would be a great honour, because there are only 340 contributing artists from 35 countries and as far as I’m aware they’re all painters.

“I don’t know if anyone has been accepted purely on the strength of their drawing abilities so, if not, then that would be a massive honour.”

n Tony Begolo can be contacted on 07812 378897.