The jacket blurb announces that, “Peter Heard is perhaps England’s most famous living naïve artist”. I have to admit that I didn’t know that, but I’m happy to take it on trust.
I do think, though, that there’s much more to Peter’s work than just naivety. As well as the standard trappings of the genre – figures and buildings in particular – his paintings have a graphic quality that’s both subtle and sophisticated. The front cover, which you can see here, is a case in point. Every element has been extremely carefully placed; none is on the golden section and the only concession to conventionality is having the just-visible horizon below the centre line. Is the too-small house a neat graphic trick or naivety? Surely, if it were the latter, it would be too large?
I’ve deliberately laboured this point because it’s what makes me think about the book and it is, after all, the job of art to make you think. If you’re response to a painting is, “Oh. Yeah.”, that’s Nature’s way of telling you not to buy it. Going inside the book, the painting Village Postie has all the classic naïve elements: the dome-shaped hills, almost (but subtly not quite) childlike representation of the house, the Postman Pat styling of the van and the uncompromising, outward-looking postman himself. And then. And then you get to the colours, which are what balance the image. They’re apparently bright and uncompromising, but look again: there’s a great deal of shading and balancing that pulls the painting together.
This is a fascinating and challenging book that pushes a great many boundaries. The accompanying text by Michael Woods is designed to complement rather than explain the paintings, and that’s as it should be. Beside Two For the Pot, I much prefer having the recipe for Somerset Rabbit than an explanation of who the gamekeeper is and how he works.