Exhibition celebrates a designer whose passion was painting

by Alison Oldham The late Philip Pank was one of a not so rare breed – the architect artist. He exhibited with the London-based Society of Architect Artists from 1984 until his early death in 1991, and looki

Exhibition celebrates a designer whose passion was


The late Philip Pank was one of a not so rare breed - the architect artist. He exhibited with the London-based Society of Architect Artists from 1984 until his early death in 1991, and looking at the work in its catalogues of the time it's easy to guess why his paintings were selected for covers two years running.

Whereas many other talented members painted in the ordered, often angular manner one expects of a profession where order is of the essence, Pank did not.

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He was, according to fellow student at the Architectural Association Ted Cullinan, "an energetic artist who hardly ever drew a line shorter than three inches long."

The observation should appeal to anyone who visited the commemorative exhibition at the Millinery Works Gallery, aptly titled A Passion For Colour. Swirling, fluid lines suggesting landscapes and skies or depicting figures seem to set the walls in motion. Exotic colour is everywhere - even in a view of Essex, stereotypically expected to be dull.

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"He was a maximalist," says artist Jacqueline Morreau. "Pank was a large man and his style was in his body. His size and energy can be seen in much of his work, especially his paintings with their big, vigorous brush strokes emphasising the characteristically bold use of colour."

Perhaps not so strangely, the buildings he designed were equally generous - solid in construction but open to light and responsive to the environment.

My first experience of his architecture was visiting his widow Tricia in their intriguing house in Kentish Town, built between 1966 and 1967.

She thought her present-day neighbours in its rus-in-urbe location would be appalled that a contemporary Sunday supplement described their road as "a seedy Victorian backwater". The house was designed to surround a 70-year-old elm tree, later killed by disease but replaced by a now mature sweet chestnut.

Pank, who was in a small private practice most of his life, was a master of the use of wood in visibly constructed spaces, according to Cullinan.

His studio (pictured with a model of a house in Frognal in the top left-hand corner) must have been in continuous use as he also painted there - sometimes with life models - virtually every weekend.

He attended life classes at St Martin's School of Art twice a week, from the 50s until three weeks before he died, which Tricia guesses makes him a candidate for its longest-serving student. And his friendship with Sir Phillip King dates from the sculptor's days as a tutor at St Martin's.

The Panks stayed with him in Corsica - resulting in many landscapes (including one in the show) as Pank usually painted three a day when on holiday. On his death, King paid tribute to Pank's architecture, particularly his home, which has "no barriers between the indoors and outdoors".

The house is indeed a vital place and the studio is still a scene of activity, both for visual artists and musicians. The positive reaction of people who come and ask to buy pictures encouraged Tricia to organise an exhibition.

She had reservations because "the painting wasn't fashionable stuff, even when he did it," and she "always admired and felt protective towards his work". But as a regular attender of Millinery Works shows, Tricia was impressed by the light-filled space and truthful, non-judgmental attitudes of the gallerists.

Her own judgment has proved sound as the paintings are displayed to advantage and 31 of the 55 works in the show had found new owners by the end of the opening night. But to see Pank's paintings at their best is to see them complementing his architecture at home. "Here," Tricia says, "I feel wrapped around by Philip.

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