Archive for category Author: Peter Brown
Peter Brown first moved to Bath in 1986 when he became an art student and he credits the city with re-igniting his passion for painting when he returned in 1993.
This large-format, sumptuously illustrated volume is nothing less than a love letter to his adopted home. Pete’s Bath is not the tourist attraction, although the casual visitor will find plenty of scenes they recognise. Rather, he seeks – as is his normal method of working –quieter corners, commercial thoroughfares and forgotten backstreets. These are the places the tourist never sees and which locals, through daily familiarity, often overlook. In every kind of weather and lighting conditions, they take on a new life and vibrancy that can only really be discovered by the true aficionado and intimate.
This is a substantial book that should appeal to any lover of Bath itself, of urban landscapes, or just of painting. It’s a tour de force that comes not just of love, but of observation and persistence.
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Pete “the street” Brown is an engaging presenter who has a nice line in self-analysis. At the same time, he is not a chatty painter. Most of his aperçus appear in voiceover, the nicely-judged wild track filling the gaps and providing a welcome sense of place and atmosphere.
His casual approach to painting (“I’m an old git who does what he wants”) is belied by a throwaway line, “I’ve been here a week and painted [this scene] a couple of times” – he clearly does a fair bit of research and immerses himself in a place before embarking on full-scale work. This makes one of the demonstrations, a quiet alley in evening light, all the more interesting. Working in unfamiliar surroundings where he has to interpret the location against fading and constantly changing light, we can see Pete thinking on his feet, and it’s a nimble performance.
The Arles that Peter paints is not that of Van Gogh or the tourist trail. That research and immersion leads him to places that are, while not completely off the beaten track, more domestic than grand. He begins with the Roman amphitheatre, but chooses to paint just three high arches, working from the basic shape to tone and shading, all in the almost monotone warm limestone of its construction. As an exercise in control and observation, this simple-seeming work is a masterclass in its own right and the magician’s reveal is the addition of the bright blue sky right at the end that brings the whole thing suddenly to life, “Like putting in a red letterbox at the end”.
The other major demonstration is a backstreet with a variety of buildings, trees and more Roman remains. Again, Peter works from shapes to tones and then brings in detail. Of interest here is the way he works with figures. As we watch the painting develop, people pass, but rarely in great numbers. They barely get a mention and don’t appear until near the end, when it turns out that Peter has been observing them all the time and they come both from immediate memory and a personal library based on constant drawing – “I do a lot of drawing”. It’s the same in a quiet square where the day starts overcast and then brightens. “Do I follow the light?” leads to a discussion of the practicalities of plein air painting: “It’s a confidence thing, painting … the more you nail it in one, the better”.
If you want a guide to painting Arles, this is perhaps not it. However, if you want a masterclass in observation and working alla prima, as well as a pleasant hour and a half spent in the company of an engaging and informative demonstrator, step right up.
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Peter Brown is “Pete the Street”, whose DVD I’ve reviewed previously. This book has an interesting genesis, having been crowdfunded on Kickstarter and I wasn’t at the time aware that it was going to be anything other than privately published.
Peter’s painting method is all about observation – of the light, the weather, reflections, people and everything that goes to make up the scene. He works almost exclusively on location, meaning that things change as he is working; the film makes clear how he adopts and adapts this to produce results that are both a record and an interpretation at the same time. They also retain the vitality that’s essential for a successful street scene.
This is a collection of Peter’s quite extensive and really rather magnificent work in the larger area of London (it’s not confined to the centre or the tourist spots) with brief notes on the circumstances that pertained at the time, or what interested him. It’s not, nor is it intended to be, a book about how to paint or the painting process. Nevertheless, if you want to learn about observation, its study will reward you considerably. It’s remarkably informative, both in that respect and about the streets he paints, which are by no means mean.
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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.
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