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Praed and Piper: Partners in paint

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 06, 2014

  • Mike Praed with his painting, Passing Tol Pedn.

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The work of two of Cornwall’s leading contemporary painters – Michael Praed and John Piper – is being celebrated in a collaborative exhibition in St Ives.

It was just over half a century ago that Cornish-born Michael Praed, on completion of his studies at Penzance and Falmouth schools of art and later at Brighton College of Art, began exhibiting his paintings.

An art teacher for many years – until he was at last able to devote all his time and energy to his own work – Praed has exhibited extensively throughout a long and successful career. From Cornwall to Chelsea, Sussex to Sweden, he has also been dubbed as Cornwall’s unofficial ambassador to Brittany.

A long-standing member of Penwith Society of Arts and a member and chairman of Newlyn Society of Artists, he is an artist with a deep knowledge and understanding of Cornwall’s geology, geography and history..

His middle name could be “integrity” because he is mot a person to indulge in change for its own sake. One of Cornwall’s most industrious and prolific painters, he has always been in search of new ways of seeing and of new ways of interpreting what he sees.

Whether looking Cornwall’s isolated farmhouses or its awesome cliffs, at the state of the tide or fishing boats, at shafts of light that slice land and sea or at the sails of yachts or the wings of gulls, paintings such as Tol Pedn, Penwith,Granite Tor, Passing Treryn Dinas and Harbour Shapes blend of austerity and authority, confidence, care and charisma. All that he does is as powerful as it is paramount and well nigh impossible for any lover of Cornwall to resist.

Although born in Salisbury, John Piper came to Cornwall as a youngster in the early 1960s when he completed his formal education at what was then Humphry Davy Grammar School in Penzance. It was there, coming under the influence of art teacher “Big Mac” and visiting lecturer Denis Mitchell, that his art career began.

He studied at Bristol and Exeter before becoming a teacher of art at Lescudjack School in Penzance, working alongside Michael Praed, who had been largely responsible for his appointment.

The parallels between the two artists are close. Like his colleague, John Piper also became a member of Penwith Society of Arts and a member of and chairman of Newlyn Society of Artists. He also happens to be the current secretary of the revitalised Penwith Society of Arts.

Renowned in particular for his paintings of Cornish cottages that could be said to be metaphors for all that he feels about his adopted Cornwall, whether alone or part of a terrace, occupied or not – there are no people in his paintings – there is a sense of detachment in the compositions that hark back to another era, to a pre-second home and holiday let age of conversions, when such cottages were lived in by locals who spoke with accents of the area and worked on and even under the land or on the sea.

Paintings that glow with the artist’s deep regard for Cornwall’s cottages and countryside at large, they are personal and accessible, pertinent and appealing. From Cottage Blue and Penwith Grey to Moorland Mist and St Ives Cottages, they carry a strong sense of John Piper’s scraping, scratching and searching for the right form, colour and texture, not to mention his striving for truth.

It has been said that his paintings play a tune in praise of Cornwall, as stirring as the singing of Trelawny by a Cornish choir. And one can but say “Amen “ to that.

Not to be missed, Praed & Piper is at Penwith Galleries, Back Road West, St Ives, 10am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm, Monday to Saturday, until May 24. Admission is free.

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