Peter Richards on Bromley art aesthetics

PUBLISHED: 19:18 01 February 2011

Peter Richards

Peter Richards

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As menacing globules of paint floated through the air towards Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII in 1976, the hapless Tate gallery assistant looking on probably didn’t see what all the fuss was about.

The pile of fireplace bricks that was at the centre of a huffing, puffing argument over modern art, was hardly up to the level of beauty that one might enjoy in Millais’ Ophelia elsewhere in the building.

But love it or loathe it, art that comes in the most haphazard, grotesque or apparently self-absorbed forms has continued to polarise opinion to this day – and tomorrow, the debate comes to Bromley.

Whilst these leafy suburbs have escaped the furore surrounding the art of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and other rule-breakers of their ilk, Bromley Art Society member are due to ponder some rather philosophical questions at their next meeting.

Peter Richards – artist, Shortlands resident and Eltham College’s former head of art – is prepared to instigate a debate under the title Eating the Gobstopper.

“I want to talk about why painters paint and what they want to achieve. The gobstopper is the question, ‘what is art?’, which you can’t swallow in one go. You have to chip away at it from different angles.”

The 63-year-old, who has taught in schools including Coopers in Chislehurst, has given a talk to the art society before, though last time his choice in hat was a school master’s mortar board over the horns of the devil’s advocate.

“It was more a lecture about the four families of artists’ print making,” said Richards in reference to a range of methods he uses to achieve his own abstract art. “This time it is going to be much more open as I want to fire at people artists who produce strange types of work and ask whether it is art.

“The gutter press can get awfully hot under the collar about whether a stack of bricks or a sheep in formaldehyde is really art.

“It usually comes down to intellectual intention. A Faberge egg is probably more attractive and better designed than a bad painting, but is it art in the same way?”

Whilst prepared to get Bromley Art Society talking about this slippery aesthetic territory, this artist is not entirely objective himself. “For so much modern art you have to have the pamphlet that goes with it. I think that’s not good. You should be able to go into a gallery and see art and get an emotional reaction to it.

“Some artists go down this very tortuous road of their own thoughts and eventually they are painting to address their own emotions – for themselves rather than for an audience. I think that’s a bit of a cop out.”

Objective or not, it doesn’t matter for Richards. His aim is two-fold. Beyond his desire to get the art society members to think about their own work, the former art advisor to Bromley council appears to hold the general aim of sowing a seed of avant-garde thought in the borough’s “sleepy” art scene.

“Bromley is not really known for its artistic scene, though there is plenty of musical and theatrical talent,” he said. “The council has never shown an interest in getting behind artistic spaces.

“If your art is a hobby you might be stuck in the garage or the garden shed when you create, away from the contact and opinions of other artists. You can end up following quite a safe path, which of course is fine if that is what you want, but it is often unintentional.

“I just want to very carefully shake the tree a bit. I want them to consider going further with their art or even being political with it.”

● Peter Richards is due to speak at Bromley Art Society, in the Verrall Hall, Bromley United Reform Church, Widmore Road, Bromley at 8pm on February 4. See or visit for more information.

Jules Cooper

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