Michael Beddall, winner of Hertfordshire Life Landscape Painter of the Year 2016
PUBLISHED: 11:14 15 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:14 15 May 2017
Experimental and restless in his desire to create paintings that have a sense of poetry, Michael Beddall’s work ranges from abstract to hyper-realism. Sandra Smith met the St Albans artist and 2016 Hertfordshire Life Landscape Painter of the Year winner
‘I didn’t realise I had an ego,’ Michael Beddall laughs, ‘until I won Hertfordshire Life Landscape Painter of the Year. I was overjoyed! I’ll definitely enter more competitions from now on.’
The 69-year-old’s entry, Wooded Area, Verulamium Park (see overleaf), which won this magazine’s first landscape painting competition, reflects not only his love of the county and its compositional opportunities, but a fondness for what he describes as an English tradition.
‘Looking at nature is healthy. Depicting landscapes is part of our roots and it’s good to carry on doing that,’ he shares at his St Albans home. ‘I’ve always returned to landscapes. I paint them on the spot or from photographs. Sometimes my abstract work is inspired by the elements, though I favour one extreme or the other – either abstraction or hyper-realism.’
Growing up on the family farm in Worcestershire, where paternal encouragement nurtured an appreciation of the countryside, Michael used drawing and painting as a means of communication. Describing his work from that time as, ‘monochromatic, representational and melancholy,’ at 14 he won a national art competition culminating in an appearance on early 1960s children’s television show Tuesday Rendezvous. During recording the young artist performed a live demonstration before announcing his ambition to become a commercial artist.
Despite his young age, Michael left his secondary modern and headed for Stourbridge College of Art, specialising in graphic design before working as an illustrator which included a spell on the Watford Observer.
Several years later, with an aim of being less meticulous and more expressive, he exchanged work for a course on painting, art history and anatomy at Ruskin College, Oxford. These three years proved to be a life-enhancing experience.
‘That’s when I enjoyed looking at colour for the first time. What an eye opener!’ Michael recalls. ‘I had to paint four white bottles against a white background using primary colours. I saw pale pinks, greens and yellows. This was a revelation – it changed the way I approached art.’
A long career in teaching in the Hertfordshire area (he retired from Head of Art at Hasmonean High School for Boys in Hendon after 23 years in 2007) provided this articulate artist with the opportunity to keep up with current trends, as well as to use school art facilities. This was also a period when his status as an artist evolved in a way he could never have anticipated.
‘I once took six months to complete a six-foot by four-foot-six portrait of my face. Towards the end, I carried the painting outside in order to look at it from a distance. Suddenly a storm came so I rushed it into the garage. Two days later, on the way to the 1976 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the van broke down so the painting had to go on to the roof rack of my mini. I’d only passed my driving test two days before. At the academy I finally saw my painting, which was accepted, from a decent distance. Later I received a phone call from Elton John who’d seen my portrait at the RA and wanted to commission me to do his. I was flattered but this was a technical exercise and I didn’t want a reputation for painting big heads.’
Realising the storage issues that result from unsold large paintings, Michael reduced the size of his canvases. His approach, however, continued to be an experimental one.
‘Sometimes I do a quick reaction drawing in oil pastel, which I then develop in my studio. But if it becomes too contrived I go on to something else. I’m looking for some kind of magic, poetry. I get bored. I might concentrate on abstract then feel it’s just decorative, so for my self-esteem I paint something in front of me in order to be more disciplined. I do whatever I fancy.’
Appreciating the qualities of various mediums allows Michael to mix oils, acrylics and watercolours. He applies paint with his fingers while enjoying the lure of irregular shapes and geometric patterns which, combined with an analytical mind, make this artist’s subjects, medium and style as eclectic as the much-admired Gerhard Richter.
‘My CD collection is almost like my paintings. I can be into world music one day and next week I dismiss it for jazz. I’m always chopping and changing. My style? I’m more discriminate than I used to be. Nowadays I search out the familiar and ordinary in things and make that a subject in itself.’
As the creator of such distinct images – from a meticulous painting of Tuscan olive trees or the Clent Hills in broad, colourful strokes, to timeless Verulamium Park – Michael Beddall’s diversity is refreshingly unpredictable. This is a contemplative painter who deserves to be well known in Hertfordshire and far beyond.