Dave Pearson was one of my tutors on the Manchester Art Foundation Course in the mid-80s. He taught in the Grosvenor Building, All Saints, from the mid-60s until he retired in 2002.
Following his death in 2008, many thousands of his paintings, prints and drawings, of the highest quality, were found stored in his Haslingden home; since then, friends and admirers have made heroic efforts to save Dave Pearson’s life’s work from being destroyed or lost through neglect.
These efforts were recorded in Derek Smith’s film:
‘Dave Pearson – To Byzantium’ (2011)
The narrator explains “This film is about the life and work of one of Britain’s least known but possibly most prolific and extraordinary painters. It’s also a story about the struggle to save a painter’s complete life’s work from obscurity and destruction and the attempts to open up to a new audience the work of a unique artist, who shunned publicity and recognition as distractions, throughout his life.”
The film has reached the Finalist Category in the New York Festivals World’s Best Television & Film Awards; the ceremony takes place on April 17th 2012.
Two days later, the first major London exhibition of Dave Pearson’s work, Byzantium And Beyond, will open at the Bermondsey Project Space, London SE1 5SF (19th April – 13th May 2012), curated by Edward Lucie-Smith and Margaret Mytton and sponsored by the Dave Pearson Trust.
Dave Pearson taught painting while I was on the Art Foundation Course, and during that time he kept his genius well hidden… but then, most of us never saw his work:
Dave worked very closely with another tutor, Don McKinley, and the two were like a double act: Don was tall and theatrical while Dave was short and unexpressive. They both adopted a crumpled, windswept appearance, although Don was more ‘designer crumpled’, while Dave’s disarray seemed genuine.
Don was a larger-than-life character and I found him quite scary; whenever I heard his voice booming through the building, I would hurry away in the opposite direction.
Dave was more of a brooding presence in the oil painting room… like the ghost of Rasputin lurking in my peripheral vision. I felt so ill-at-ease in the studio that I stopped painting in college, retiring to the basement with the sculptors and ceramicists, ostensibly to make objects instead of pictures, but really to escape from Don and Dave’s presence.
As the year progressed, there were rumours that Dave was romantically linked with one of the painting students and I assumed he was having a mid-life crisis; scandalised by this incongruous turn of events, I avoided Dave with renewed zeal.
Unlike me, other ex-students have fond memories of Dave Pearson; one of my friends remembers how he let her onto the Foundation Course even though she had failed her Art ‘A’ Level; another remembers that Dave was very encouraging – ‘like a father’ to some of his students – and that he would join them at Band On The Wall for Prince Tony’s Roots & Reggae Night.
I don’t think any of us guessed how hard Dave worked when he wasn’t on the Polytechnic premises. He didn’t usually make personal work while he was teaching and he very rarely exhibited. Now I realise that he probably wasn’t depressed when I knew him… just exhausted from staying up all night painting in his Haslingden studio.
I did see a photo of one of Dave’s paintings in Horse and Bamboo’s workshop in 1985: it was a night scene of people dancing around in animal masks. I remember being impressed and thinking ‘Dave Pearson must be a dark horse’… but I assumed the painting was from before he ‘burnt out’… an unfair assumption based upon my impression of him during the previous year. I had no idea that he was secretly painting and drawing like a demon.
‘Dave Pearson – To Byzantium’ is a wonderful record of Dave Pearson’s work and the struggle to save it. I loved seeing the contributions which other tutors from Manchester Foundation Course made to the film: Mel Chantrey, Katy Wood, Joan Beadle, Ken Billamy, Bob Frith and Don McKinley, who now seems charming and completely unscary to my grown-up-self.
It’s sad and humbling now to realise that I was in the presence of a truly great artist and I didn’t know it, nor did I notice anything remarkable about Dave Pearson; worse still, I avoided him like the plague.
But thanks to the hard work, commitment and support of a small group of friends and admirers, Dave Pearson will eventually enjoy, posthumously, the towering reputation within the art world which he clearly deserves.
Further reading: http://anartistsestate.blogspot.co.uk/ and The Â£1 million legacy of ‘great British unknown artist’ discovered in modest terraced house after his death by Paul Harris.
Many thanks to the Dave Pearson Trust for the images.