Peter Brown’s nickname is ‘Pete the Street’ as he spends most of his life out and about painting en Plein Air. His big inspiration is the great outdoors, be it the big skies over Silbury Hill or the claustrophobic back streets of Varanasi. On December 1st 2015 Peter’s new book will be released. The book is his tribute to London, with over 200 reproductions of paintings he has made in the city. We wanted to know more about his love of London and of painting, as well as what it is like to be one of the most successful members of the New English Art Club working today.
Lisa: When did you start to paint en plein air?
Peter: When I returned to Bath in the early nineties the city inspired me to pick up my charcoal and draw again after not doing any art for a year or so. From that point I have painted only plein air apart from the odd large work squared up in the studio.
Lisa: What do you take with you for an outdoor trip? Our readers I’m sure would love a list from you that they could tick off each time they go out to paint!
Peter: I travel in my VW van – 9 seater (congestion charge free!). It’s a long wheel base and in the boot I have every size and shape board and canvas I could ever need from 6 x 8 inches to 36 x 48 inches.
Also the same for clothing – water proof trousers, scarves, gloves, flip flops, shorts etc.. all covered in paint and a peaked cap or two – essential for keeping the sun out of my eyes.
Easel/paintbox: I use a mabef full size box easel with a strap and carry paints and medium in a tool box.
No stool. I stand.
Artists’ oil colours: I use Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Madder Brown, Transparent Oxide (or Burnt Sienna), Ultramarine Blue, (maybe a Cerulean Blue), Paynes Grey, Sap Green (naughty), Viridian, Alizarin, Cadmium Red Orange and Yellow, Lemon Yellow. Whites: mainly Titanium although I found an old tube of Cremnitz (Flake) which I’m using too at the moment for brighter colour mixing and shorter drying time.
Range of filbert type hog hair brushes
a nylon soft round brush for detail on board
Jam jar for turps
Boards: – Up to 12 x 16 inches – I use are MDF 2mm to 6mm primed with acrylic gesso (3 coats) and I put a dirty mid tone oil wash on for a ground.
I use a belgium oil primed linen on 2 1/4 inch raised lip.
Lisa: Why have you decided to bring out a book about London specifically?
Peter: I absolutely love London. I have painted it for the last 15 years and still find it the most exciting city to work in and be in. I’ve travelled a moderate amount in the last 10 years to Canada, Spain, France, India and around the UK but I have never got bored of painting London. I have always had every painting professionally photographed and a book of my London paintings is a thing that I have always dreamed of. Paintings get made, framed exhibited and if we’re lucky sold and very often that’s it. I have a bit of an obsession with recording exhibitions and past works and this is a really good way of showing as many people as possible what you do.
Lisa: Is there one painting that you are most proud of and if so, which is it and why?
Peter: There are lots of paintings I am embarrassed of which I think is natural. It sounds corny but actually I have no paintings that I’m truly happy with. Very often when I see them again they let me down. But that’s the point of doing them. For the next show in January which accompanies the book launch there is one which I worked from to blow up in the studio. It’s of Piccadilly Circus on a summer afternoon painted from the middle of Piccadilly. It’s a 25 x 30 inch canvas and I see it as the focus of the exhibition along with the rainy paintings of Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street.
Lisa: What is involved in being an integral member of the NEAC?
Peter: The NEAC pulls on my heart strings. It has a fantastic history with the likes of Sickert. There are some incredibly knowledgeable and good painters in the society and it has a huge diversity. The members really value it and we know we are priviledged to be a part of it. This means the paintings we enter into the annual exhibition and NEAC show are the best we can pull out of the bag. The greatest benefit for me is showing alongside painters like Arthur Neal, Anthony Green, Dawn Sidoli and Charles Williams. New elections are key and we are keen to seek new talent and careful to get it right for the society and the candidate. On a more day to day level I am on the committee and it takes a huge amount of voluntary time from the president and other committee members to run it. There is an enormous effort and capital currently going in to relaunching the web site for spring next year which will put the club in a really good position for the future.
Lisa: What is your favourite brand of paint and for what reason?
Peter: I use 4 brands: Winsor and Newton, Daler Rowney, Old Holland and Michael Harding. Some are oilier than others but it just means I use more and I’m not a technical painter by any means so as long as it’s artist quality I’m happy.
Lisa: Can you describe your studio to us?
Peter: Well my studio is the pavement. That’s where I do virtually all and certainly my best work. But I do have a room in the house. It’s a Victorian semi and the studio has a largish bay window – east facing. There is a fire place and floorboards. The room is a fair old state, which is good for painting interiors when I do. I’ve a couple of studio easels, a big plate glass mirror, a table, tonnes of unfinished or fairly poor canvases/boards that probably need burning but will no way see the light of day, a plan chest and beading on the walls to stick my oil sketches on. It is lit by a fluorescent tube and a daylight bulb. The kids use my pastels and paints – My 15 year old is currently copying a Rembrandt in there with his water based oils and at Christmas I get the lights in there and sometimes paint it like that. It’s another room in the house where I store paintings and fiddle on the odd thing.
Lisa: How do you decide where you are going to paint?
Peter: If only I knew. Best thing is to go somewhere, anywhere – out the front door or drive to Edinburgh. The inspiration comes 100% from the place not me. As I write we are half way through a 4 man show of Varanasi and the next one is my big show of London at Messum’s – so they were based on particular locations but the thing is I can start a show with a topic in mind but soon enough I take a left turn when something catches my eye. I do a lot of parking up and wandering round.
Lisa: What are the ingredients of a great painting?
Peter: If I could tell you that..! I guess you could say number 1 – A great artist. But then great things can come from anywhere and great artists can do some shockers! I love line drawings of heads and everyday figures (not so fussed with naked ones). It’s great when you look at a painting and you think ‘Oh yes!’ – when paintings point out stuff that we see every day but show us how good they are whether it be Nicholson’s Mange Tout or Margaret Green’s bit of beach.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Peter: You can see more of my work in my new London book available from my website: www.petethestreet.com. And you can follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/petethestreet1 and Facebook facebook.com/petethestreet. My London exhibition runs from 13 Jan – 12 Feb at Messums: http://www.messums.com/artists/view/114/Peter_Brown
Book Launches and signings:
Peter will also be signing books at the Mall galleries on 3rd Dec (2.30-4.00pm)
and also giving a talk and signing books at Topping & Co Booksellers, Bath (7.30pm, 10th December)