“There’s a bit of blue sky over Worthing”

Ken Howard OBE RA – ‘Beach with Kites’, oil on canvas

August arrived with a weekend of perfect weather, blue skies and scudding clouds.

In contrast to Friday, and the crowds that the hottest day of the year brought to the South Coast, Saturday saw a generous gathering of much more sensible numbers on the beaches at Worthing. There was a communal delight in the sharing of a different horizon as lockdown eased and the steady on-shore-breeze embraced us. For those who have experienced the Covid-19 lockdown without access to a garden or an adequate outside space this experience must have been especially precious.

Since the 19th century when the railways allowed people in our towns and cities access to Britain’s coast and towns there has always been a wonderfully democratic quality to our beaches.

I grew up in Horsham in the early 1970s. Everyone seemed to have much less materially than we do today and yet we had so much more. We had time, and not just as children but grown-ups too.

It was an adventure to get to the beach in our ancient pale blue Morris Travellers. Many of the roads in Worthing were still concrete and the old cars made a boom-ba-langa noise as they bounced over the joins which delighted me and my brother.

You could leave Horsham’s micro-climate in blazing sunshine to arrive at the coast to find a howling wind or a sea fret. Sunshine or showers my Granny’s response was always the same “Oh there’s a bit of blue sky over Worthing”. An optimistic outlook which has been good training for life. Part of the seaside tradition was Grandpa making tea on an ancient Gaz stove and Granny’s pink iced sponge cake. We would swim, sail, fly kites and walk to the ice cream van. This pebbly bit of beach holds a special place in my heart with a sense of joy and freedom.

The dance of light on an incoming tide, the whoosh and clatter of the waves as they break on the pebbles and the salty wind on my face has the power to restore me in a way I find hard to describe.

These memories bring to mind a wonderful oil painting by the contemporary British artist Ken Howard titled ‘Beach with Kites’ which we sold at Toovey’s for £5000. His art is about revelation, communication and celebration. Here families soak up the sun and sea air in a shimmering light with vibrant colours. The windbreaks with their strong vertical and horizontal lines lead us through the medley of people. You can sense the heat, breeze and happy voices enjoying a picnic beside the sea.

Amongst family, friends and those I meet along the way there seems to be a consensus that we were all going a bit too fast for our own good and the world before Covid-19. Perhaps post-Covid things might look rather more like my childhood where we had less but so much more.

Like the beach itself Ken Howard’s art, inspired by light, lifts our spirits raising us above the challenges and sorrows of life. No wonder there is a need to be beside the sea especially in these times!

With any luck a combination of old-fashioned good manners, common sense and a genuine care for others will prevail and hold back the tide of a second wave. I hope this beautiful weather blesses you and those you love – keep safe.

A Contemporary Renaissance in British Realist Painting

Peter Brown – ‘View of Chichester Cathedral’, oil on canvas, signed and dated 2003
Peter Brown – ‘View of Chichester Cathedral’, oil on canvas, signed and dated 2003

Contemporary British Realist painters are leading a renaissance in figurative and landscape art. Many of them are members of the New English Art Club.

The New English Art Club was founded in 1886 as an exhibiting society for artists influenced by French Impressionism, whose work was rejected by the then conservative Royal Academy. Artists included James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Walter Sickert, John Singer Sargent and Philip Wilson Steer.

Today members of the New English Art Club continue to paint in a realistic, figurative style.

Amongst the youngest of these is Peter Brown (b. 1967) who was elected to membership in 1998. He paints street scenes and city landscapes directly from his subjects, like the winter view of Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex. He works ‘en plein air’ in all weathers drawing inspiration and energy from his engagement with passers-by.

Bernard Dunstan - 'Going to Bed', oil on board, signed with initials
Bernard Dunstan - 'Going to Bed', oil on board, signed with initials

Bernard Dunstan (b.1920) was elected to the New English Art Club in 1946. He studied firstly at the Byham Shaw School of Art and then at the Slade School of Fine Art between 1939 and 1941. He is best known for his studies of figures in interiors, especially nudes, which he paints in the Anglo-French tradition of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Slade’s emphasis on swift, decisive lines drawn from the model can be discerned in the freedom and movement of light in Dunstan’s oil, ‘Going to Bed’.

Ken Howard - 'Newlyn High Water', oil on canvas-board, dated 2014
Ken Howard - 'Newlyn High Water', oil on canvas-board, dated 2014

The artist Ken Howard (b. 1932) is often quoted as saying “For me painting is about three things…revelation, communication and celebration.” He studied at the Hornsey School of Art and was elected as a member of the New English Art Club in 1962, serving as President between 1998 and 2003. His work combines keen observation with fine draughtsmanship and tonal precision. Light is the overarching inspiration in his paintings as can be seen in the oil ‘Newlyn High Water’. His subjects include Venice, London, Cornwall and Studio nudes.

Like all these artists, Ken Howard allows us to glimpse something beyond our immediate perception by using the particular vocabulary of his painting and style to communicate his vision of the world around him. In this he uplifts us, celebrating human dignity and a sense of wonder in nature.

For me there is a subtle irony in the apparent role reversal whereby today the Royal Academy embraces the abstract and contemporary whilst the New English Art Club is overseeing a renaissance in contemporary realism and draughtsmanship amongst this spirited and talented group of artists.

Prices for these artists range from the low thousands into the tens of thousands of pounds at auction, which clearly affirms collectors’ delight in Contemporary British Realist art.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.