Larging it up… the bold brushstrokes of Brian Fletcher

Brian Fletcher has made a name for himself with large scale paintings and drawings of the Black Country.

He captures scenes most of us would drive past without a glance, bringing underpasses and derelict houses to life in a frenetic whirl of colour and impasto.

 

He paints with great passion and commitment and explores a wide range of 
subject matter using a variety of media. He regards himself as an expressionist, exploring his subjective responses to the drama of mountain and rural landscape, architecture and the human figure…

 

Impasto (from the Italian ‘to paste upon’) requires courage and vision: layering paint, or more literally ‘raising paste’ to create texture and movement in a swordsman’s flourish of brush and palette knife.

The end result, in the right hands, is vivid and immediate.

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Brian says: ‘‘I work large because it allows a freedom of expression and emotion I cannot find in smaller work. When I was at school we used to tease each other with a saying:  ‘If you can’t fight, wear a big hat.’

‘I still don’t know what this means but I sometimes wonder if it might apply to my painting: ‘If you can’t paint, use a big brush.’’

Brian can paint. He’s an elected member of the RBSA, the Birmingham Art Circle, Dudley Society of Artists and Vice President of the Easel Club. He has many opportunities to exhibit, and his influences reveal a formal training and deep appreciation of art.

‘I am influenced by so many great painters,’ he says. ‘Where to begin? Soutine, Frank Auerbach, Barbara Rae, the Fauves, Dennis Creffield, David Bomberg… many, many others, all of them expressionist, adventurous painters and draughtsmen.’

Walk into an exhibition and you can’t miss Brian’s paintings.

They leap out at you, an immediate presence in the room. Search for his paintings on Flickr and they shout from the crowd, demanding to be seen.

The rugged industrial scenery of the region inspires much of his work, as well as British mountain scenery. He also paints and draws the human figure.

‘I was raised a good Black Country lad close to large steel industries in which my father and the community worked. So it was a great influence in my formative years.

‘In my painting I respond to the rugged and vibrant influences of this culture and to the bright colours and massive forms to be found in industrial structures.

‘Much of it is now in decay and this inspires me in that it seems to release bold colour and new forms.’

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Brian’s work is frequently featured in exhibitions in the area, most recently Black Seen and The Industrial Muse, which drew artists from the area together.

‘We all had strong links to the region, present and past, and so myself and fellow artists decided that it would be a good theme. Our work responds to the visual stimulus of the Black Country.’

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Brian is currently working on portraiture and life drawing.

‘In the immediate future I am intending to return to another theme that I pursue – large impasto and intensely coloured cathedral interiors.

‘Although the direct subject matter is different from the Black Country series, the handling of paint and gestural are the same. Both are inspired by robust and rugged subject matter.’

Biography

Brian Fletcher has exhibited widely both locally and nationally, including the Royal Society of British Artists.  His work is held in the permanent collections of Shropshire County Council, Dudley Art Gallery and the RBSA, where he also regularly exhibits. 

`Remember that a painting before becoming a favourite theme, a nude or a specific anecdote is just a flat surface covered with colours in a certain order.` – Maurice Denis

‘I look at nature and write my own song about it.` – Ivon Hitchens

Industry meets country: a printmaker’s perspective

Peter Shread says he’s always on the lookout for shapes and colours created by changes of light.

This is perhaps why he is drawn to abstract art, his beautiful woodcuts and linocut relief prints conveying the mood of a landscape in the suggestion of outlines, the contrast of colours and tones drawn from a particular view.

‘I like the simplicity of printmaking,’ he says, then goes into great detail about all the stages that make up the process, making you wonder how simple it actually is, to the uninitiated at least.

‘I will work from a charcoal drawing in the first instance, using no more than four or five colours. I colour the charcoal drawing with, say, yellow or blue or red, then make a tracing of that drawing.

‘The relief prints are made by drawing a design on a block of lino or wood, then cutting away the background with a knife and gouges. The finished block is then inked with a roller and printed in a press.

‘To make a colour print a separate block is cut for each new colour. These are then printed in sequence, one colour over another, until the image is complete.

‘By adding a transparent medium to the ink it is possible to overlay two colours to provide a third.’

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The work is satisfying, methodical, repetitive… the process of producing woodcut and linocut relief prints not unlike manufacturing, each one worked with a roller and printed by the artist on his own hand press.

He is drawn to the decorative and topographical aspects of landscapes, and finds the local unique mix of industry and countryside a constant source of inspiration.

‘You find, for example, with the canals that there’s the mix of the man-made locks, bridges etc. contrasting with the surrounding landscape.’

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Peter has produced a whole series of prints inspired by the extensive canal networks of the Black Country, and finds inspiration in rural locations too.

‘My canal pictures started in the early 90s, and I’ve also featured the Clent Hills, Wyre Forest and Wales.

‘My Royal Academy prints were of the Elan Valley and Black Mountains. I did a lot of walking in Wales and got many of my ideas from there.’

Born in Birmingham, Peter trained at Birmingham College of Art to study painting then Moseley Art School. At art school, studying graphic design, he found himself drawn to classic poster series, the type of modernist works so popular as reproductions today.

‘Many were influenced by Cubism, by Nash and by Edward Bawden, but they still retained an interest in the figurative. I found my own influences in Picasso, and Abstract Expressionism.

‘Edward Wadsworth, the Vorticist, came to the Black Country once and did a whole series on the slag heaps and furnaces.’

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Edward Wadsworth, ‘Blast Furnaces in the Black Country 1919’ Woodcut

The influence of Wadsworth is clear, though on moving to the Black Country himself in the 1960s, Shread admits he experienced something of a culture shock.

‘In those days you could actually tell the difference between the accents… people from Quarry Bank sounded different to those from Dudley, who sounded different again from people from Netherton. Of course it’s all changed now. Back then,  some of the lads I taught had never even travelled as far as Birmingham.

‘There was a chainmaker’s  at the bottom of the school garden and we would sketch the men working. We’d go to the pit banks at Saltwells Wood and Doultons clay pit.’

Saltwells has a long history of coal extraction going back to the 1300s and the wood was planted to mask the scars left by industry. Shallow depressions and hummocks reveal the presence of out-cropping and bell pits surrounded by banks of soil are still visible. Large mounds mark the gin circles where horses would drive the winding apparatus.

Whether the boys took in any of this with an artist’s eye is anyone’s guess. Peter continues:

‘I remember some of them were talented kids, but most were just glad to get out of the classroom. We could do that in those days, before health and safety.’

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As well as appearing at the Royal Academy in London, Shread’s work has been frequently exhibited in the Black Country: murals featuring enamelled panels based on his landscape prints were a striking feature of an underpass in Stourbridge until they became so badly scuffed by the wear-and-tear of passing pedestrians that they were removed and stored safely away.

‘The sculptor and public artist Steve Field has got the panels now,’ Shread says. ‘Lumps got knocked out, and so they decided to tile it all over, and the work was taken down.’

Peter Shread trained at Moseley School of Art and taught in Dudley for many years. He is a member of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and Midland Printmakers. Peter has exhibited widely, including at the Royal Academy, and has won a number of prizes including the Manchester Academy Prize and the First Prize in the RBSA Open Print Exhibition. He was asked to deliver a public art commission for Midland Metro stations. Peter now produces woodcut and linocut relief prints and paintings.