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Large, 1964 Abstract, 'Fun this Way', Peter Pretsell

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Image of Large, 1964 Abstract, 'Fun this Way', Peter Pretsell
  • Image of Large, 1964 Abstract, 'Fun this Way', Peter Pretsell
  • Image of Large, 1964 Abstract, 'Fun this Way', Peter Pretsell
  • Image of Large, 1964 Abstract, 'Fun this Way', Peter Pretsell
  • Image of Large, 1964 Abstract, 'Fun this Way', Peter Pretsell

Large, abstract oil on board by Peter Pretsell, signed and dated 1964/5.

Monolithic slabs of creams and cement whites form the architecture of this atmospheric piece. A couple, their legs dangling, begin the fairground ride ascent. Populated with understated powder blue skies and rich, wholesome browns this is truly a magnificent piece.

Peter Pretsell has been described as compassionate, kind and funny but most of all he was an acute observer of life.

'Peter Pretsell was a dangerous man at a party. He was the life and soul, often laughing, probably dancing too. But he was always observing. Because Pretsell had an artist's eye for human behaviour, and very likely a notebook in his pocket.

Nearly 40 years of wry observation is encapsulated into two colourful exhibitions opening this month (2008) in Edinburgh to celebrate Pretsell's work. At Edinburgh College of Art, where he studied and later taught, and at Edinburgh Printmakers, where he often worked, his figures sashay and squirm, pinned down by his incisive pen.

The warmth of the tributes that fill the catalogue, from friends, colleagues and students, testify to the a man whose kindness and compassion stood out as much as his booming laugh and his outrageously loud taste in clothes, and who tended always to play down his own considerable talent.

Pretsell was always drawing. He had an easy fluidity with it. "Every day of his life, he put pen to paper," Philomena says, remembering how, even when dangerously ill in hospital, he was sketching a rotund visitor at a neighbouring bed. "He was fascinated by people, by their manners. He loved the characters in pubs, he liked to look at them and think about what sort of lives they had."

He often drew them dancing, or practising keep fit. The strange indignity of doing stomach crunches in your living room held a fascination for him, not least, one imagines, because it was funny. He was interested in the gap between who we are and who we think we are, but he was always prepared to turn his perceptive eye on himself.

"My work is concerned with people – our beliefs, fears, likes and dislikes, prejudices, attitudes to one another, pretensions, aspirations, ideas of what is important or beautiful or desirable," he wrote in the catalogue for a show of his own work at the Fruitmarket Gallery in 1977. "I use images from wallpaper, carpets, furniture, ornaments, magazines, advertisements, brochures, mail-order catalogues because they show what we are, what we would like others to think we are and what we think we would like to be."

Pretsell was born in Edinburgh in 1942; his father was a banker, his mother a homemaker. An acclaimed scholar and captain of Heriot's, he surprised his teachers by applying to Edinburgh College of Art, where he was a contemporary of John Bellany and Sandy Moffat.

He worked briefly as an art teacher in Fife before accepting a post to teach on the foundation course at Northampton School of Art. Philomena was one of his students. "He was a brilliant teacher. There was always a lot of humour. He got us to put a brown paper bag over our heads and draw the model. I was very uptight about it, felt I couldn't do it. He had a laugh at me about that, and with me, he encouraged me to laugh at myself, and carry on doing it despite myself.

"He made people laugh all the time, but if he fell out with somebody he would make it up through humour, he cared about people."'

Frame: Newly framed and ready to hang
CM: 97 x 97
Inches: 38 1/4 x 38 1/4
CM: 91.5 x 91.5
Inches: 37 x 37
Provenance: Ex Edinburgh College of Art then to IBM corporate collection.
Inscribed verso Peter Pretsell 1942 - 2004
Condition: Very Good
Date: 1964/5