Our series of photographic portraits by Neill Menneer shows Bath people at work.
Pete Brown, painter
I had a wonderful childhood in Berkshire, running free in the woods and the surrounding countryside. There was a lot of play with camps, dens, model railways and rabbits. I became obsessed with a fascinating book on the countryside called British Woodlands in the Seasons and from an early age copied the watercolour illustrations.
I went to Newbury College and from there went on to an art foundation course at Sydney Place in Bath. David Cobb and David Atkinson were both very influential and I particularly enjoyed studying Sickert, Bomberg and Auerbach. The course covered many subjects and a variety of media, but whether it was life classes or landscapes, I really just loved to draw.
I went to Manchester Art School and ended up being influenced by the modernist movements popular at the time. Artists like Clifford Still and the critic Clement Greenberg were promoted by my tutor David Sweet as the way to go. As a result I ended up producing 21 coloured squares for my degree show. My mother cried when she saw it! For two further years I created more squares but finally decided that teaching might be more rewarding than abstract shapes. Ultimately, this didn’t suit me either as the books I read on art history were just not me. Too dry, too academic and as far as I was concerned not what art was about. However, I had to earn a living, although selling satellite aerials which I did for a while wasn’t me either. I have no head for heights for one thing – and I wanted to paint.
I came back to Bath one day and walking down Paragon I thought “I want to draw this place”. We moved into an attic flat in Grosvenor Place overlooking the valley at the back. I was nervous at first drawing in front of the public and drew the outskirts, gradually working my way into the centre. I was desperate to sell but also embarrassed. I had approached every gallery in Bath and all had sent me away. In my arrogance I concluded they were wrong and I’d sell straight to the public. I had a folder of work and a sign saying, “drawings for sale”. I’d sit with my back to it in Queen Square or George Street as I drew. I did this seven days a week and after three months someone bought a drawing for £45. Shortly after I remember being on Upper Borough Walls when someone asked if I was selling the drawings. “Yes” I said excitedly. “Oh dear” he said, “You can’t do that”. He was the street trading license enforcement officer! After much manoeuvring I got an ‘Artists Roving Licence’.
Since those early days I have been blessed by the support of many ‘angels’: David Cobley who started Widcombe Studios, John Benington curator at Victoria Art Gallery who has given me eight one man shows, Peter Khufeld who introduced me to Bill Paterson of Patterson’s Fine Art in Albermarle Street who gave me important early exposure in London. Bob Brown helped me get elected to the NEAC (New English Art Club). I was elected president this year and I dearly want to bring one of their shows to Bath. David Messum did one recently which was called ‘The magic and poetry of everyday life’ – for me this says it all!
PORTRAIT: Neill Menneer at Spirit Photographic. Visit: capturethespirit.co.uk, tel: 01225 483151