Octogenarian artist reflects the light and shade of life
- Credit: Courtesy Art Space Gallery
During his long career, Peter Freeth has developed an original form of printmaking featuring subjects that blend the imaginary the literary and the real - from animals, divided cities, and rough sleepers to the streets of north London.
The Muswell Hill artist has exhibited his aquatint etchings in the Royal Academy's summer exhibition for more than 20 years, but with little commercial collaboration - and no website - his works have rarely been seen in large numbers.
His last exhibition was at the Highgate Lit and Sci, now Art Space Gallery in Islington is showing more than 40 of his etchings spanning four decades of work, in a retrospective which they say is long overdue.
The 83-year-old Royal Academician, who studied painting and printmaking at The Slade School under Anthony Gross, won the Prix de Rome in 1960 for engraving, and lived in the Italian capital for three years.
Several works in the exhibition reflect Italian locations and inspiration, filtered by an intensely personal vision that includes themes of semi abstract cityscapes, silhouettes of urban skylines, and war torn buildings.
Shakespeare, Shelley, William Blake and the Bible are also referenced in witty images which play on human folly. And Mr Parkinson Practices His Surrender refers to the illness that increasingly affects Freeth's practice.
Instead of the stark black and white of traditional etchings, Freeth's tones are a subtle play of light and dark. Rather than making them from separate 'bites' in multiple stages, he starts with a painted ink image and creates the whites greys and blacks in one go to produce muted tonal harmonies.
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Working simultaneously on different pieces he will return to a long ignored image to rework, enrich and reimagine it.
He quotes T.S Eliot; “Old men should be explorers," adding “It's not given to many to be a Columbus or a Vasco da Gama. Explorers come in many sizes and shapes, and the artist's passion to get a certain diagonal or a certain light just right is in itself each time an adventure of discovery.”
Freeth's work is in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum , British Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum, Government Art Collection, and Harvard University Collection.
Peter Freeth, 40 Years of Aquatints runs September 10 until October 8 at Art Space Gallery, 84 St Peter's Street, N1.