John Bratby Exhibition Sheds Light On Kitchen Sink Painter Via Crowd Sourcing

John Bratby was a prolific painter, writer and something of an enfant terrible on the British art scene during the Fifties and Sixties. Born in 1928, he died in his adopted home town of Hastings, just a day after his 64th birthday, while walking home from the local chippy.

Rather than create a traditional retrospective of his painting – it is believed Bratby painted over 1,500 works – we launched a rare opportunity for the UK public to shape the style and content of a major gallery exhibition.

The gallery has been overwhelmed with submissions of privately owned Bratby’s, along with personal recollections, letters and photos and some wonderful works were discovered at our Bring us your Bratby day on 19 October 2015.

We would like to say thank you to those who have helped us literally rediscover his output and celebrate the talent of the man who put everything but the kitchen sink, including the kitchen sink, into his art.

There was intensity to Bratby’s output, as his widow Patti recalls: “From one seed out of a packet of the Van Gogh variety, John did 55 pictures in 18 days.” Patti herself will be involved in the exhibition, loaning Bratby’s work and keepsakes from his studio – “I’m so excited, I can’t stop thinking about it!”

Bratby painted a whole raft of celebrities and notable figures during his life. Included in the exhibition will be a portrait of Sir Paul McCartney, painted in 1967 at the height of the Beatles’ fame. The Monty Python star Michael Palin – who wrote about the experience of sitting for Bratby in his book Halfway to Hollywood – Diaries 1980-88 – is lending his 1981 portrait. The star of Jurassic Park and The Great Escape is captured in Lord and Lady Richard Attenborough (1967). Seen in public for the first time will be Bratby’s portrait of actor Tom Bell (painted in 1979 when he was starring in Bent, lent by Tom’s partner Frances Tempest), agony aunt Claire Rayner (1981, lent by her son the journalist and food critic Jay Rayner), author Sir Malcolm Bradbury (1982, lent by his son Dominic), and the comedian Arthur Askey (1967), 

We will also get to meet Bratby himself as the exhibition features several self-portraits – including Self Portrait with David and Friend (1965) and Self Portrait with a Sunflower (1977) from the collection of Bratby’s widow Patti, who is lending a number of her paintings to the show. Patti herself is featured in many works (such as Patti Seated, 1978) as is the artist’s first wife, Jean (Jean Tired, 1955). Bratby’s son David is lending the beautiful 1959 charcoal drawing David Bratby as a child his father did of him. Another portrait of David is being lent by Room with a View actor Julian Sands, who has a considerable Bratby collection and is lending five works to the exhibition, including a spectacular Nude – apparently a favourite work of late artist Lucian Freud. We even get to meet the family pets, such as Angora Rabbit (1983), owned by Patti Bratby. 

Bratby admired Van Gogh and repeatedly produced paintings featuring sunflowers and we will see a number in the show, including Sunflower Pool II (1959) and Sunflowers 11 (1967), plus other still lives (such as Still Life with Oranges, 19). Bratby’s impasto brushwork also captured memorable landscapes, represented in the show by works inspired by his trips to Venice. 

Due to the overwhelming amount of previously unseen archive material offered to Jerwood Gallery, one room of the exhibition will be a recreation of Bratby’s domestic environment. 

Patti Bratby, John’s widow, says “I’m so excited about this project and the final exhibition – I can’t stop thinking about it. John worked with great intensity – from one seed out of a packet of the Van Gogh variety, John did 55 sunflower paintings in 18 days. I cannot wait to see so many of his works collected together in Hastings.” 

Jerwood Gallery Director Liz Gilmore says “A retrospective of John Bratby’s work is long overdue, and where better for it to take place than in the town that he made his home. John Bratby was a complex and intense personality, but I hope the show captures some of his moments of genius. We hope our exhibition will rediscover and celebrate the man who put everything but the kitchen sink, including the kitchen sink, into his art.”

Image: John Bratby, Rain in June, 1961 (detail) © The Artist’s Estate / Bridgeman Images


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