Dave Pearson (1937-2008)

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 £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.

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  1. I really enjoyed this item about Dave Pearson and watching the film. What a story!

    I was on the Manchester Poly foundation course 1981-82 and although Dave wasn’t my main tutor, I remember him quite well, exactly as you describe him. I think he popped up doing the occasional tutorial or on a sketching day-out to somewhere like Ramsbottom or Hebden Bridge. Quite a character. What was equally fascinating, his own incredible story apart, was the procession of tutors, some of whom seemed so familiar but whom I hadn’t thought about for thirty years. The exception was Joan Hoverstadt who I wrote about in my own recently launched ‘blog’. No sign of Barry White in the film though!

    Your website has been a real inspiration to my friend and I in doing our own collection of reminisences. I still can’t think of a name for it so its ‘manchester8188′ because that’s the period we were there. I did graphic design in the Chatham Building and am fortunate enough to still work in the business.

    The section on nightlife brought back so many memories and I can’t get over how often I went out and how many wonderful experiences I had. Also the times we lived through – so much change. Manchester is an amazing city and 25 years later I still have pangs of regret about leaving.

    Keep up the great work!


    • Thanks Geoff – I did 3D Design in Chatham Building 86-89 – we must have crossed paths! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed some of what I’ve written. I don’t really know why I’m doing it. Sometimes I think I’m just exhibiting signs of madness or impending dementia.
      I’ll look forward to reading your site,
      All the best, Urs

  2. Fun site to come across – likewise 3D ’81-’84 student. Came to site via a bores relating to a flashback of going to ‘the Tube’ at the Hacienda ’83? Pat Phoenix, Madonna, Jules & Paula.
    Perhaps add the Chatham building as an important venue in my time as Certain Ration played there quite a few times!

  3. i was just thinking about Dave and decided to check him out after all these years .. Lots of occasions in my life I have thought about him.. meaning to thank him for being the best tutor I ever had. I really loved him . He was great … and made us all laugh . It was only after my foundation I found out about his paintings . I was so impressed . He was an extremely modest man , who put his students first.. I am so sorry to hear he passed away the world would be a much better place if it were full of people like him…. he was the best tutor I ever had and a genuine person and a real friend .

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