John Bratby at the Jerwood Gallery

Down to Hastings to see Bratby at the Jerwood. I have seen a lot of his pictures through the salerooms over the years, but of course one gets a patchy impression like that. At Hastings there are enough pictures to give one more of an overview, although the arrangment isn’t obviously logical in a chronological sense. Also, the Gallery clearly had more pictures to show than it knew what to do with in the available space. Odd pictures lurk in corridors round corners, as well as being scattered across the whole of the ground floor gallery space.

The result is, I think, a great success. Bratby, like so many other British artists of the 20th C, and perhaps every century, was personally clearly a difficult man and there are hints of his high self-regard. He also ended up towards the end of his career  with a style of picture involving his second wife, Patti, indulging in, how shall one put it, immodest poses. These are not attractive pictures; they are if anything revolting. The exhibition, I assume tongue in cheek, even incorporates the actual red coat which Patti wore in some of the pictures.  But strip those pictures aside and Bratby’s work is full of interest and fascination.

Bratby was praised by his teacher, Carel Weight. I didn’t notice any catalogue in the exhibition (apologies if there was one), so I didn’t get a lot of guidance as to what the curator thought were the artists who had influenced him. I don’t see any Weight there; van Gogh is more obvious, even to the extent of Bratby trying his hand at sunflowers. But technical brilliance is what one takes away from this show. He was clearly an astonishing manipulator of colour and the result is a show of tremendous energy and skill. I loved it.