Even before he took to writing pornographic stories at school and flogging them to classmates, it was blindingly clear that John Bratby was never going to become some dull conformist.
While the Bloomsbury Group painted beauty, Bratby decided a bombed-out, bloodied, post-war Britain needed art which was real: not landscapes but kitchen-scapes, showing what the ration book brought home.
So he became the figurehead of the so-called ‘kitchen-sink’ art movement, painting dustbins, even lavatories – and capturing everyday objects before Andy Warhol had the idea. One society dowager was so outraged by his tendency to paint the humdrum that she had her cornflake packets covered in brown paper.
By 1956, before David Hockney made it big, Bratby was more famous than most pop stars, layering paint on canvas “as thick as Axminster carpets”. His subjects included Bob Hoskins, Tom Stoppard, Lady Antonia Fraser and, in 1960, the original cast of Coronation Street.
But as quickly as he soared, Bratby fell, as fashion galloped on to the next rebellious movement: abstract art. All these years later the Jerwood Gallery in Bratby’s adopted town of Hastings has decided it is about time the world remembers just what a significant figure the artist was – and has asked the public to help.
So rather than create just another retrospective of his oeuvre – it is believed Bratby painted a monumental 3,000 works – the gallery, in collaboration with Bratby’s family, friends and colleagues, launched an appeal for works, letters, photos and memories. The response has been staggering.
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