‘Struggle’ is a word which comes up a lot in The Art of Peter Prendergast, my Book of the Week. From the very beginning life seems to have been a struggle for artist Peter Prendergast. His father suffered the gruelling harshness of a miner’s life in the coal mines of South Wales, and the young Prendergast lived in constant fear for his father’s health and safety. School at the local Secondary Modern was tough, and without the inspirational encouragement of his art teacher he might have ended up down the mines himself. Later, making a life for himself as ‘a lonely exponent of contemporary landscape painting’, he found himself out of step with the contemporary avant-garde, struggling to make ends meet after his Liverpool teaching post was terminated after just three years.
Prendergast chose to live in a landscape which was often dark, dramatic and threatening, and author Richard Cork writes that he ‘saw his adopted area of North Wales essentially as a place of struggle’. But there’s a vigorous energy in many of the paintings, as though the act of painting in itself is a means of defying difficulty and celebrating the existence of a redemptive life force in the landscape. And the task was never finished: ‘I know I have not yet fulfilled my potential’, he said in 1997, ‘and that will be the challenge for the rest of my life’.
Sadly his life ended suddenly in 2007, when he was just 60. Now his bold, expressionist landscapes, seascapes and self-portraits are celebrated in Richard Cork’s insightful new book, which was launched last week at a selling exhibition of 40 paintings and drawings at Oriel Tegfryn Gallery, Menai Bridge (continuing until 29 September). Against the odds, Prendergast overcame huge difficulties to create an outstanding body of work. It is, as Richard Cork concludes, a heroic achievement.
Lucy Myers, Managing Director