Having studied under Frank Auerbach at the Slade School of Art in the 1960s, Peter Prendergast moved to Bethesda, north Wales. There, with works of brutal expression and powerful drama, this son of a Cardiff coal miner forged a reputation as one of Britain’s foremost landscape painters. Drawn from the artist’s personal studio archive, this new exhibition explores the course of his five-decade career, from talented, dedicated beginner to formidable and internationally recognized artist.
The very early work Winding Gear, Windsor Colliery, Abertridwr, [No. 22] is a reflection of what would become Prendergast’s life-long devotion to place, and Wales in particular. Close his home in North Wales was the enormous Penrhyn Slate Quarry. Worked for over 200 years, Prendergast reckoned it was the largest manmade hole in the world. Such is the great cultural significance of this Welsh landscape of terraces, pools, pits and tips, it has recently been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Working up close, Prendergast spent years trying to capture it in paint, ink, charcoal, graphite and in 1984 his epic painting ‘Bethesda Quarry’ was shown in the Tate Gallery’s landmark exhibition,‘The Hard-Won Image’. That this was a landmark was perhaps not fully appreciated at the time, though it included work by such luminaries as Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Maggie Hambling, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin, Leon Kossoff and Henry Moore.
It’s an impressive list of names, and thirty-six years on they resonate as the very best in modern British art, in what now seems like a glorious era. That Prendergast was there – and that the Contemporary Art Society presented Bethesda Quarry to the Tate the same year – is tesmimony to his position within modern British art.
“Peter Prendergast has the rare ability to look at landscape
and see both its material reality and its spiritual potential. This means that we believe in what he shows us, however extravagant the surging colour or the splendid complexities of form ... Prendergast carries us away with him into his
own vision, which then becomes our own.” Sister Wendy Beckett, 1993