Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

John Bratby At The Jerwood

In his heyday John Bratby was the most famous living English painter; by the end of his life he was all but forgotten. He died in 1992 on a Hastings street on his way back home from the chippie.

The Jerwood's retrospective- the first since that very English demise- shows why his career took the shape it did. He begins as a visionary of the everyday, painting kitchen tables, boxes of cornflakes, his wife and children- whatever happens to be around- with expressionist intensity- as if he can see the molecules swirling away beneath the skin. The lines are thick and black, the colours earthy and the paint smushed on straight from the tube. He is prolific, he likes working on a big scale, he provides the artwork for the film The Horses Mouth and teaches its star, Alec Guinness, how to handle a brush and palette knife. He powers his way through a couple of decades, paints Arthur Askey (sweetly), paints Paul McCartney (also sweetly), then leaves his wife, has a groovy mid-life affair with a younger woman and the colours turn fauve- but not very convincingly so (he was never a colourist) and the energy goes out the window. He remarries, paints pictures of Venice and lives out his latter years in an uxorious fug of sex and cider. The pictures of the 50s and 60s feel like they needed to be painted, the later ones don't. Discontent can fuel an artist. Perhaps the problem was he got to be too happy.
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