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Cover: Self Portrait with an Easel and an agonised expression

John Randall Bratby – Atkinson Art Gallery Southport

 

 

Everything but the Kitchen Sink, including the Kitchen Sink 

Bratby entered the Royal College of Art in 1951 and while there began to develop a reputation for being antisocial. Painfully shy he took to begging, sleeping rough in Hyde Park or in the attics of the College and frequenting prostitutes. Adding to his burgeoning reputation for wildness, Bratby painted prosaic subjects such as dustbins and the interiors of lavatories, using paint ‘as thick as Axminster carpets.’

In 1954, a maiden exhibition at the celebrated Beaux Arts Gallery launched Bratby into the limelight - Guggenheim Awards followed in 1956, 1957 and 1958. He became member of the Royal Academy in 1971.

All this was against backdrop of ever-increasing fame, success and media attention. However, not everyone was a fan. He was grouped together with a number of other radical realist painters - Edward Middleditch, Jack Smith and Derrick Greaves - derisively named the Kitchen Sink School, by David Sylvester. This did little to slow either Bratby’s or their progress and they were chosen to represent Great Britain at the 1956 Venice Biennale. The same year, that Still-Life with Chip Frier, was purchased by the Tate.

But just as his success had been meteoric, so was his fall from grace. In 1960, he was dropped, 'like a cold potato', as he remarked. Fashions changed, and the Kitchen Sink style was replaced, first by Abstraction and then Pop Art.

Nevertheless, the public remained loyal. Bratby continued to sell well and his ability as a self-promoter, supported by a tireless work ethic, ensured his continued popularity. In the 1970’s he met his second wife, Patti Prime, via a Lonely Hearts column advert and the pair moved to their extraordinary twenty-roomed house, complete with cupola, in Hastings’ old town.