Tribute to a Painter

It’s Father’s Day, and this is my gift to my Dad, who lives on through his paintings but is no longer in this world.  My Dad graduated from St. Martins School of Art in London in the 1960’s.  My earliest childhood memories are fused with colour and the smell of oils and turpentine.  Brushes of all shapes and sizes, sponges, planks of wood, thick layers of dried paint, home-made palettes and mixing pots, putty and huge flat-sided pencils.  These are just a few of the things which were always there.

My Dad resisted commercial art because he believed it stifled creativity. Therefore he chose not to make his living as a painter.  For two decades he held numerous jobs in factories, and finally at the end of the 1980’s he joined the Royal Mail as a sorter in one of the main London Sorting Offices.  Despite his physically demanding jobs he devoted his spare time to painting.  If he wasn’t painting he was sketching, either with charcoal or black marker pens which used to make my eyes water with their fumes.

When we were young children he worked night shifts so that he would have some time in the late afternoon to paint.  While he was working on a painting we were not allowed to see it until it was almost finished.  The completion of a new painting was always a very exciting moment for us.  Sometimes we’d come home from school and the latest work of art would be hanging on the wall to surprise us.  We’d stand round and gaze at it, often lost for words.  My Dad used to watch our expressions and although it was sometimes hard to find the right words, I never disliked any of his paintings.  I had my favourites of course, one of which has pride of place in my living room. (This is the featured painting at the beginning of this blog).

My Dad mainly used oils, so his paintings always took ages to dry and there were certain no-go areas in the house.  The paintings were very rich in texture, and I remember my Dad often struggled to decide when a painting was finished.  Like many creative people, his perfectionism frequently caused him sleepless nights.  The rough texture of my Dad’s paintings was fascinating to us when we were small children.  We didn’t realise it was intentional, and tried to be helpful by picking off the “lumpy bits” which defined the paintings.  My Dad must have known, but he never said anything.

My Dad was a purist when it came to colours, and for this reason we did not have a colour TV.  We mumbled and grumbled about this but he was totally unmovable on the subject.   Colours which were dull or “phony” were a constant source of irritation to him.

As he continued painting my Dad’s style became more abstract and expressionist.  His creative periods gained in intensity.  He often wished he could devote all his time to painting, but having to provide for a family of six made this impossible.

When I was a teenager he strove to exhibit his work at the Royal Academy‘s Summer Exhibition.  As he didn’t have a car at the time, he had to lumber his paintings across London on the tube, and always arrived back home exhausted and anxious.  It was a tense time for us all waiting to hear whether his work had been accepted for exhibition.  Sadly it was never to be, despite several attempts.  He used to go back and collect his rejected paintings alone, and the despair affected us all.  It was heartbreaking to see my Dad’s spirit crushed after setbacks like these.  Yet he never gave up.  He never wasted his spare time.

What grieves me most is that he never made it to retirement.  The free time which he worked and longed for did not arrive in the way he’d hoped.  In 1997 he contracted a progressive muscle-wasting disease which slowly took away his mobility.  During his final few years he was unable to use his hands.  The hands of a true  genius had lost their power.  The injustice of this still torments me.  My Dad died suddenly in 2008, and I miss him so much.

But he lives on through his paintings.  Every time I touch my treasured favourite painting with its familiar “lumpy bits” and hand-crafted frame, my Dad’s spirit spurs me on.  He was a man with ideals and he never compromised, even when things were tough.  His perseverance, endurance and selflessness remain with me.  There are so many things I could say about my Dad as a person, but this blog is a tribute to him as a painter.

My Dad might not have become a household name or exhibited at the Royal Academy, but his paintings will survive for generations.  He will continue to inspire me as long as I live.