Featured Artist: Mike Beddall

I had the great pleasure of meeting artist Mike Beddall at his home and studio in St Albans. Mike is an immensely engaging character and a prolific artist to boot. Over the years he has created a diverse body of work in differing styles and with a range of materials; oils, watercolours, pastels, gouache, crayon and charcoal. ‘I have always been obsessed with painting and drawing.  I find it liberating to create’.

Mike grew up on the family farm in Clent, Worcestershire. He recounts that his artistic desires began to emerge at a young age; ‘When I was a kid my Father used to take me with him to the pub. We’d sit in the smoking room and I would draw the men playing darts. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t pick up a pencil to sketch. There was not much talk in our house, so drawing and painting were my main method of communication’.

I felt instant love for an early, large scale work in oil called ‘The Hitchhiker’. Mike tells me; ‘It’s a self-portrait. I was desperate to visit the London galleries and hitchhiked my way there as often as I could.’

'The Hitchhiker', Mike Beddall

Another early oil painting in monochromatic style is One is transposed into a peaceful scene with reflections undulating and folding; a breeze nudges the rowing boat creating ripples at its bow.  Mike talks about the composition of the work. ‘I like to leave areas of light or dark in this series of compositions. I call it thinking space, in order to let the viewer put their own ideas into the narrative. Although I love to use colour, I also find English grey days and the ordinariness of a landscape inspiring’.

‘Between What Happened and What Never Happened’, Mike Beddall

'Barry plays the Blues', Mike Beddall

After leaving The Grange Secondary Modern School at 14, Mike took an Art Foundation Course at the Stourbridge College of Art and specialised in graphics in his second year. He made this wax crayon sketch called ‘Barry Plays the Blues’ one night whilst watching his friend playing the guitar in the digs they shared. The freeform lines show a natural artistic confidence.

After leaving Stourbridge college Mike worked as a Graphic Artist and Illustrator for several years, working for various companies including the Watford Observer and Evening Echo newspapers, before going on to study at the Ruskin School of Fine Art in Oxford taking Painting, Drawing, Art History and Art Anatomy.

‘I learnt a lot about colour and how to use it at Ruskin. One of the first tasks we had to take on was to paint a white bottle on a white background.  I stared for a long time; eventually I could appreciate the variations of white.’

Mike also did some part-time art teaching in colleges in and around the Hertfordshire area. Then, in 1984, he took up full time teaching for the Hasmonean High School for Boys in Hendon. Mike was Head of Art and taught for 23 years, until his retirement in 2007. Throughout his career he continued to produce work and take on commissions in various media and subject matter. ‘Teaching kept me on my artistic toes and helped me to keep up with current trends. Some of my pupils have gone on to art colleges like Slade and Goldsmiths to study architecture, fine art and jewellery design.’

I was lucky enough to see two portraits hanging in Mike’s house and I thought both were outstanding.  The first I came across was his self-portrait; it is an imposing size with fabulous detail and brushwork in oil. Mike is pictured standing in front of the work. The painting was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1976 with critical acclaim, especially from a particular person; ‘I received a call from Elton John, who had seen the piece at the Royal Academy. He said how much he liked the work and would I be interested in painting his portrait. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure why, but I declined!’

Mike Beddall and his self portrait

'Eira', Mike Beddall

The other portrait, in oil and pastel, is of his childhood sweetheart and wife Eira. It is on a much smaller scale, but nonetheless enchanting.  ‘My self portrait is painted on hardboard, my preferred material to work on. I love its smooth surface. I sometimes use the textured side to reinforce the sense of touch’.

Mike loves to travel and paint in Europe, particularly in France, Spain and Italy. ‘I am a great believer in painting and drawing from life.’ I saw two examples of Mike’s French landscapes in pastel that I especially liked. The swirling, stormy sky in ‘Cloud Study nr Limoux, S.E. France’ is stirring and dramatic with intense cerulean and indigo blues. Then in direct contrast the serenity of ‘Narbonne Plage, S.E. France’ portrays one of those beauteous coastlines you immediately want to experience yourself.

'Cloud Study' Mike Beddall

'Narbonne Plage', Mike Beddall

These abstract works show Mike’s joy of using colour. ‘When I began painting I favoured a monochromatic palette; now I celebrate in using colour, pattern and texture’.  ‘Spanish Fire’ (acrylic), ‘Sunset nr Carcassonne’ (pastel) and  ‘Sahara’ (watercolour).

'Spanish Fire', Mike Beddall

'Sunset nr Carcasonne', Mike Beddall

'Sahara', Mike Beddall

I asked Mike which artists have influenced him throughout the years. ‘I remember visiting Kenwood House many years ago and seeing Rembrandt’s work; wonderful, he had such a slight of hand, I studied his technique very closely. I am drawn to the simplicity of Giorgio Morandi exteriors and the vibrant interiors of Edouard Vuillard.  Francis Bacon is also someone whose style I admire. However, my favourite artist is Gerhard Richter. His work is a celebration of abstract elements, pigment and colour. I visited his exhibition at the Tate Modern 9 times!’ 

Exhibitions:

Mike took part in Herts Open Studios 2013: ‘I had around 90 visitors and sold lots of the smaller pieces I’ve been working on. I would dearly love to paint larger scale work again but just don’t have the studio space in which to create it.’ If anyone knows of a studio to rent, I know Mike would be very pleased to hear from you.

As well as showing his work in numerous exhibitions throughout his career, Mike also had two paintings accepted by the Royal Academy for their Summer Exhibition.

Contact the artist:

There was lots of other work, and the stories behind them, that I would have loved to include in this article so I highly recommend a visit to Mike’s studio.

Telephone:      01727 862849

Email:              mikej.beddall@gmail.com  

Website:          www.hvaf.org.uk/Michael-Beddall/gallery

By CLARE KENDAL BATE

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