DVD: Oil Sketches || Peter Brown

I’ve spent a great many years trying to work out what the difference is between a sketch and a painting. You’d think it was obvious: a sketch is, well, sketchy and a painting is something that’s planned and executed meticulously with time being no object. Except that some artists are quick workers, paint on location and use broad, quickly-applied strokes. Does this make them sketchers rather than painters? Well, no, for reasons I’ll elaborate.

The difference, I now know, between a sketch and a painting is that, while a painting is planned, a sketch coalesces. And, if you don’t understand or even agree with that statement, I refer you, m’learned friend, to Exhibit A: this DVD.

A lot of artists are really at home in the studio. Take them out, film them on location because it makes for better TV and you can see that they’re like a fish out of water. The noise, the wind, the people, the bright or changing light, even the occasional shower, take them out of their comfort zone and it can be painful to watch. I’ve seen demonstrations that break down at the final hurdle because of it, compositions that don’t quite add up and perspectives that, well, my dear, frankly…

Peter Brown is apparently known as “Pete the Street”. This isn’t actual TV, so I’m inclined to believe the sleeve notes. He tells us at the beginning that he does most of his work out of doors, and it’s immediately apparent that this is his natural habitat.

The first demonstration is at the top of Broadway Market in Hackney and is as busy as it can get. People and vehicles move in and out, the light changes, especially after a shower, but Peter is unfazed. This is also where I came up with my definition of the sketch. There’s no blocking-out, the structure of the painting isn’t pre-planned – at least not on the canvas. Instead, Peter works from the main structural features, allowing the scene to develop, almost with a life of its own. In this way, the fact that it’s constantly changing doesn’t matter. Certain fixed points emerge and figures are inserted as and when the composition demands.

The scene now changes to Lambeth Bridge and it’s raining. The tones are basically greys and greens, but Peter manages a composition that not only captures what’s there, but has life as well, which is a neat trick.

The final three demonstrations are painted at Bantham Bay and Burgh Island in Devon. The first, done in bright sunlight, is of interest because later assesment reveals that, viewed indoors, it’s too dark, and remedial work is required the following day. These scenes are also heavily-populated and Pete betrays his roots: “I’m itching to get on with the figures”, which he adds as tiny, yet essential, brushmarks.

When videos first appeared, they were normally limited to 60 minutes partly, I suspect, so that the more robust standard play tape could be used. The result was that the demonstrations often jumped from one stage to the next, with big cuts in the progress. DVDs opened everything up and, at nearly two hours, there’s a lot of material here. However, even that can’t really contain five full paintings and there’s clearly been a lot of editing, but it’s almost impossible to see the joins and it feels as though you’re watching the whole process.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

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