OEs purchase Peter Folkes painting for Southampton Art Gallery
Peter Folkes was born in 1923 and even his own mother once commented that Peter was 'born with a paintbrush in his hand'. In 1941 he enrolled as a student at Bristol College of Art before World War II interrupted his studies taking him to North Africa, Sicily and Italy. However, he completed his training after the war and in September 1950, Peter, and wife Muriel, arrived in Southampton and Peter took up the post of Senior Art Master at King Edward’s.
He began painting local scenes, notably the Test and Itchen estuaries, boatyards, the docklands, and Southampton Water. These paintings, though now scattered, are a priceless record of the post-war period in the city. In the late fifties Peter experimented widely with the range of new materials becoming available and his fascination with old weathered gravestones, their carvings and inscriptions developed at this time. Church spires appear in his later, much more Cubist, watercolours. There has always been a strong interest in the surroundings and architecture of English parish churches. Family camping visits to Portland, in the early sixties resulted in a series of works that show a shift towards modernism.
In 1964 Peter took up a Goldsmiths Travelling Scholarship, visiting the United States. Here, a series of paintings emerged, inspired by the regular geometry of skyscrapers. Returning to the UK Peter was approached by the then Southampton College of Art, about becoming a lecturer, and later their Head of Fine Art. He remained there until retirement in 1989. During this period Southampton University commissioned a number of portrait of leading academics. Peter's portrait of Sir James Matthews is displayed in the reception area of the building carrying his name in Above Bar Street.
Peter's prolific and varied work over the intervening years shows that he is a truly English painter, grounded in the countryside of the Southern Counties, especially of Hampshire and of his home county, Dorset. There were several large series; Cows in various weathers and settings, sometimes showing a touch of Folksian humour, and sweeping agricultural landscapes in watercolour. The two main exceptions to his rural themes were an unusual series based on military uniforms combining painting with transfer of photographic images of battle scenes from the Victorian and Edwardian period, and his American skyscrapers. There is a quirkiness about some of his themes that include studies of manhole covers, road markings and telephone wires! Peter is now 93 and still lives in Southampton and though his eyesight is not so clear, and his hand not so steady, he still experiments.
In September 2016, the School was approached by Peter Broyd (KES 1951-1958) and Rod Rumble (KES 1951-1957) who had discovered that despite Peter’s paintings being present worldwide in city galleries, Southampton City Art Gallery did not actually possess one of his paintings. Their idea was to contact OEs who had formerly been taught by Peter and to ask them if they wished to contribute towards the collective purchase of one of his paintings that would be officially presented to the Gallery. With the help of The Development Office, OEs from this period were contacted and within a matter of weeks a sufficient sum had been raised to purchase 'The Railway Crossing'. This painting of Peter’s depicts the Mount Pleasant railway crossing which still makes it possible today to drive directly from Bevois Valley to Northam.
On November 3rd (Peter’s 93rd birthday) a private ceremony was held at Southampton Art Gallery with both Peter and his wife Muriel present, along with members of the OE community and representatives from King Edward’s (including the current Head of Art) and the Curator of the Gallery, Tim Craven, to present the painting to the city.