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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Roy Petley

A Paris artist's "stall" in the Montmartre section of Paris.                   
Copyright, Jim Lane
An enterprising young artist on a street in
Barcelona, across from Sagrada Familia.
In traveling to major art capitals of the world I've made a habit of supporting local artists--those with the gumption and stamina to put forth their work for sale on the street. I now have four such pieces and could kick myself for not having collected more. In doing the French art capital I anticipated having to choose from hundreds of possible scenes. This was Paris, after all. However, either I didn't go art shopping in the right place, or I did so at the wrong time (perhaps both). I was looking for scenes much like the one above in the Paris area known as Montmartre. I didn't find any. Thus the two paintings I purchased, while probably not significantly different from what I would have found in Montmartre, came from secondary street vendors, not the artists themselves. I did, however, find such artist selling their work on the street in Barcelona, though none particularly appealed to me (or they were bigger than my suitcase).

Impressions of Paris (approximately 8 x 10 inches, and roughly 20 euros each).
There is a cheap, souvenir quality to most such paintings (I couldn't afford them otherwise). But that doesn't necessarily mean the artists themselves are inferior. For the most part, they're young, possibly students, but art savvy enough to know what sells as to content and size; know how much (or how little) time they can devote to each painting to still make a profit; and have a burning desire to succeed (not to mention for eating reasonably well while waiting for such success). I've been there, done that, though usually in a park at an outdoor art show rather than a sidewalk. And I know quite a number of excellent artists who have done likewise, both personally and in reading about them. One such artist is the British painter, Roy Petley.

Quai de la Tournelle, Roy Petley, a street scene he knew well.

Roy Petley
Roy was born in 1950 (or 1951), which makes him four or five years younger than myself. He was the oldest son of a large Lincolnshire family (apparently too large; he was given over to a children's home when he was five, where he grew up). The boy's art talent blossomed as he taught himself how to draw and paint, to the point that, at the age of sixteen, he won a scholarship to study art at Brighton University. However he stayed only one semester before hitchhiking to Italy to study the old masters. In Florence, he eked out a bare existence painting for tourists, selling his work on the street. (I wonder how many times he painted the Ponte Vecchio?) In his spare time he studied at the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. When he returned to England a year later he headed for Northern Ireland where he found gallery representation, starting to make a name for himself. By the time he turned twenty-one, Petley was back in London, his work appearing in more high-end galleries as he made ends meet working in the art department of the Greenwich Theater.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Art in the park, a venue where only the strong (and most persistent) survive.
At the same time, Petley was still augmenting his income as a struggling artist by selling his work at open-air art shows around the perimeter of London's Green Park. There he obtained American gallery representation, which never amounted to much. However, it was along the Green Park railings that his work came to the notice of a minor member of the royal family, a member of the late Queen Mother's household with whom his en plein air landscapes and figures gained favor. A portrait of Prince Charles earned Petley an audience with the prince himself which blossomed into favor and friendship within the second tier of the royal family. Exhibitions followed in major cities in England and the U.S. along with membership in the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.

Déjeuner aux Tuileries, Roy Petley--he paints Paris too.
Petleys in London
Petley's paintings are exceptional in that he is one of a shrinking number of artist who still paint outdoors. Moreover, his landscapes, while not fitting snuggly into the Impressionist category, are closely related to the light, airy, oil sketches favored by them. He often includes children in his scenes as well as adult figures, either passersby or in oil studies. His Déjeuner aux Tuileries (above) is typical of his Parisian work. Today, Petley no longer sells his paintings on the street (at least not outside on the street). He's moved up to the big time with his own gallery (left) on Cork Street in London, and a newly-opened second showplace in Monte Carlo.

A picturesque, open-air, art market in the Montmartre section of Paris.


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