Peter Heard has taken a photo of every painting he has ever done since he started in the early 1970’s. He now has 1,040 images safely stored on his computer. The original works of art are displayed in hundreds of homes, including those of some famous names, people like the late Jackie Collins and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, He has thirty-seven of Peter’s paintings and also, for several years, commissioned Peter to paint his Christmas card, featuring a car from his collection, with Father Christmas aboard.
“Then there was the occasion when we were unloading the car in London for an solo exhibition and Jackie Collins walked past and said that she wanted them! I said that she couldn’t buy them before the show had even started and she said, ‘oh can’t I!’, went into the gallery and bought twelve!” Peter laughed. “The exhibition opened with twelve red dots attached, to show they had already been sold. And ended as a sell-out!”
Between 1978 and 1991, Peter has had five hugely successful solo shows at London’s Portal Gallery, one of the world’s premier galleries of the ‘naive’ genre, and where Beryl Cook and Peter were their two best-selling artists.
“In 1976 my brother had a shop near to the Portal Gallery and removed two of my paintings from my wall and took them into the gallery. I then had a phone call from the owner, who said he had never called an artist in this way before but invited me to meet him. He said I should go away and paint for two years and should produce twenty-four paintings, and then he would give me a solo show. Which is what I did. The exhibition sold out and then I went on to have four more solo shows there, which built my international reputation.”
He now has had fifteen solo shows to his name.
At his Victorian schoolhouse home in a village near Stoke by Clare in Suffolk, Peter’s upstairs studio overlooks his luscious garden of trees and plants. On his desk is the easel he works at, the acrylic paints and sable brushes he uses, a pad of disposable paper pallets and the computer file of photos that will be his inspiration. He also has 1,750 old brushes in pots, as he never throws one away when it is worn-out.
Working as a chartered civil engineer and bridge designer, it was a chance conversation that led him to begin painting in his self-taught naïve style with its flat, sometimes contorted, perspective, and vivid colours.
“I always thought that one day I would paint but I was always too busy civil engineering. Then, when I was living in Epping, I got to know a graphic designer who lived nearby, and he painted in a naïve genre which I didn't know about, but really liked. I thought I would have a go at that, and I started on the living room table.”
Peter initially worked in gouache and still uses it for some details but found he really liked using acrylics,
“You don't really need a special place to work as acrylics are not messy,” he explained. “I use primed linen fine textured canvas. It has a fine enough tooth to create a hard edge but one that still will pick up texture when I wish I wish to graduate the sky for example. I draw on it in pencil, then put some primer on it, which locks the painting in underneath, and then it’s just painting by numbers! Only joking! When the painting is finished, I spray it with three or four very fine coats of matt acrylic varnish which very slightly intensifies the colour, locks in the paint, and protects the picture for life. I have painting fifty years old which show no sign of degradation.”
Looking closely at one of Peter’s paintings reveals that what looks like a matt surface, actually shows textures of the paint. You also see the translucent qualities of acrylic paint, for example in the vapour trails in the sky.
Peter’s searches for flawlessness in his work but knows it is unobtainable.
His 400 paintings of lighthouses, both American and British, reflect Peter’s civil engineering, and are a fusion of light and structure.
“I was showcased at Art Expo in New York and became friendly with an American who took us to the North Caroline Outer Banks where there are four lighthouses, structurally identical and about 200 feet tall. One is in brick, one was black and white bands, the third had black and white barber-pole stripes, and the fourth was black and white diamonds. They were all painted that way because they act as day marks for mariners as well as lighthouses at night. That is how my obsession with lighthouses began.”
More locally Peter has painted the lighthouses at Happisburgh, Cromer and Hunstanton, in Norfolk, and the ones at Orford Ness and Southwold.
As well as lighthouses, his subject matter includes beach huts, buildings, classic cars quirky characters, village and street scenes and empty graphic landscapes.
Peter moved from London, to Exmoor in Somerset which resulted in a book if West Country paintings, and then to Suffolk eight years ago, and his work is sold in many galleries including the Hunter Gallery in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
“An American guy came into the Hunter Gallery, when it was in Long Melford, and bought twelve paintings in one hit, which was their biggest sale ever. He came back two years later and bought another twelve. I feel that artists should value their galleries because we need each other. In the art world, what happens, and I support it, is the industry standard is that the artist gets 50% of the sale price and the gallery gets the other half.”
With prices for his original work at the £3000 mark, his limited-edition giclee prints are very popular both due to his imagery, and also the high quality of reproduction.
“The original painting goes onto a flatbed scanner and, if it is too big, is scanned in sections. The technology of today seamlessly blends it together so you can’t see the join. They use ten to twelve colours and I proof (or check) it and can say if it is correct – or even it is perhaps even better than the original!”
Peter’s pictures look very familiar as over forty years they have been used for greetings cards, prints jigsaws placemats, etc.
As a self-taught artist Peter always advised would-be artists to consider the naive genre,
“Just paint as though you are the first person alive, uninfluenced by anything such as perspective, tonal values and composition. At art school you are told that when things are far away they fade in intensity, but you don't have to do that…you are set free and not trapped by technique. A mantra of mine has always been to master your own technique and then let your imagination go free.”
Peter recently celebrated his 80th birthday and was delighted when a surprise family gift was a flight over Cornwall, to see his lighthouses from above. With most of his painting featuring a vapour trail across a vivid blue sky, perhaps Peter could imagine that he was responsible for one of his own that day!
(This article was first published in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine in November 2019)