A new exhibition at the Pie Factory in Margate celebrates the life and work of an artist equally at home painting in oils, printing etchings, writing fiction or playing trad jazz.
Ramsgate resident Michael Blaker trained at Brighton School of Art after the Second World War, and lived through an age when ‘art school’ stood for a way of life as much as a training for a future career. This exhibition, booked before he passed away last year, stands as a testament not just to a certain time, but to a remarkable artist who fizzed with creativity and could seemingly turn his hand to anything.
Michael had lived in Ramsgate with his wife Catriona, an author, and a leading light of the Pugin Society, for the past 30 years.
There are portraits of beautiful 1960’s women, lively and vibrant Broadstairs beach scenes painted on bare board, and incredibly fine etchings of Brighton Pier that show Blaker’s training as an illustrator.
There are paintings of flowers that make you question why you have rejected paintings of flowers your whole life.
Two 1950’s drawings of women, beautifully framed to show their ragged edges, are perfect period pieces. Townscapes are architectural in their precision, capturing a lost urban landscape.
A study of trees has an energy and urgency that Billy Childish, now a millionaire and an establishment figure, would probably be proud to achieve. It is a similar palette to the work he is currently showing at Carl Freedman Gallery. Blaker, at his most urgent, most painterly, is – despite all his training – almost an Outsider artist.
In the Pie Factory’s underappreciated back room, three short 8mm films, made during a return to art school in the late 1950s, play on a loop. They’re a snapshot of a remarkable age.
Altogether, the collection of over a hundred works, supplemented by cabinets showing his sketchbooks, palletes, etching plates, and tools, is a portrait of an artist who celebrated life and who has left a remarkable legacy in his work. With his jazz band stage costume on show, too, you get a real sense of the man behind the work.
The show opened today (Friday) and is open daily until Wednesday.
Report Dan Thompson