Robert Perry was always alive to his surroundings… his exploration of the canals and industrial areas of his childhood provided the first sparks of inspiration.
He found himself looking closely, keen from a young age to capture and record what he saw around him in the Black Country.
‘I would explore the local woodlands, the derelict buildings, culverts and scrapyards,’ Rob remembers.
‘I’d go out cycling to Tack Wood and Checkhill, Kinver Edge, Gothersley and Highgate Common, or along the canal towpaths past foundries, glass factories, clay mines and steelworks.’
‘I made my first on-the-spot drawing when I was nine, in a sixpenny drawing book I bought from Mrs Corbett’s corner shop. Making this drawing was a revelation.’
Now a celebrated artist with work in collections across the world, Rob says his Black Country boyhood fostered a curiosity and spirit of adventure which has never left him.
He has held numerous solo exhibitions at home and on the Continent, and his travels in his white Renault van, converted into a mobile field studio, have been featured on television in the UK and France.
He works on, in, and on top of the van, which has been kitted out with a work station complete with sheltered easel and painting platform. Rob is able to capture panoramic landscapes in all seasons and all weathers, and even at night with the aid of a head torch.
He travels widely for his art, but maintains that his Black Country roots exert a strong influence on his working practice and his methods.
Born in Brockmoor in 1944, the family moved to a house near the Old Cat Inn soon after his birth. Three generations lived under one roof, and Rob remembers the blackout curtains, the smell of a coal fire in the grate and his grandfather’s Woodbines, which he would smoke on getting in from Round Oak Steelworks.
When he was five the family moved again, to a brand new council house in Wordsley.
Rob recalls a strong sense of community values at a time when industry still had a presence in the area.
‘The culture of hard work, engineering, problem solving and craftsmanship has profoundly influenced my working practice and methods as an artist,’ he says.
He went to Stourbridge Secondary Art School and then Stourbridge College of Art, and cites early influences as Rembrandt, Turner, the Dutch Baroque, the Barbizon Painters and the Impressionists.
Later came Van Gogh, Cezanne and Oscar Kokoshka.
He adds: ‘I’ve also been indirectly influenced by the great engineers like James Watt and Isombard Kingdom Brunel.
‘And a passion for motorbikes means I can transfer engineering skills into making the specialised equipment which I use in my art: the mobile studio with roof-top painting platform, large field-easels, portable spraying equipment and lighting systems.
‘I consider these skills just as important a part of my working method as the priming of boards or skill with a paintbrush.’
Rob has featured the Spanish Sierras, the Alps, the battlefields of the Somme and concentration camp Auschwitz in his work.
A member of Amnesty International, he describes himself as a committed socialist, defining it as ‘caring for your fellow human beings and trying not to be self-centred and avaricious.’
‘I consider myself to be a landscape painter, but with a strong social conscience.’
High up on Turner’s Hill, the Black Country stretches out for miles, a broad landscape by day, a carpet of shimmering lights by night.
Ever fascinated by panoramic views, Rob says: ‘I’ve worked from the Pyrenees to the Seine Valley, but I frequently return to Turner’s Hill where, looking west, the Black Country stretches away into the distance and beyond it you can see Clent Hills, the Severn Valley, the Malverns, the Clees and the Wrekin.
‘To the east you look out over Tividale, West Bromwich. Birmingham and the Midlands Plateau with Sedgley Beacon, Bilston, Wednesfield, Barr Beacon and Sutton Coldfield on the horizon.
‘I rarely produce a single piece. I work in series to gain a deeper understanding of the environment in which I find myself. My field trips are ‘visual explorations’ through the media of drawing, painting and direct physical contact.
There’s a sense that this Black Country artist will keep coming home, and will never tire of the view.
‘I just park up, set up my easel, and train my concentration on what is in front of me.’
New poetry collection features Rob on the cover
Rob Perry features on the cover of a new poetry collection out this month, published by Offa’s Press.
The Poetry of the Black Country is edited by Emma Purshouse, Dave Reeves and Simon Fletcher, and features some of the most prominent names in the region.
There’s a launch at Tipton Library on 21 November, 2.30pm – 4pm.
‘This exciting new anthology from Offa’s Press is a celebration of Black Country life and speech, work and pastimes, and includes poems by Liz Berry, Brendan Hawthorne, Heather Wastie, Roy McFarlane and the late Roy Fisher among a galaxy of poets.’