We look at the work of Newmarket artist Rodney Bastable
PUBLISHED: 11:29 06 February 2018
Rob Pilsworth profiles the work of Newmarket based artist Rodney Bastable
In an industrial unit on a business park on the outskirts of Newmarket lies the studio of local artist Rodney Bastable. The space allows him to paint ‘big’, capturing the Suffolk landscape, its skies, and its constantly changing light. It is the variation of light in the landscape which has driven much of Bastable’s work, and intriguingly also led to his parallel career, working as a lighting design consultant.
Rodney was brought up in a rural idyll, as the son of the head gardener employed on Lord Derby’s estates in Newmarket. He remembers carefree days roaming over the countryside, often miles from where he lived. These adventures in the open air imbued a love of the Suffolk landscape which has driven a lot of his paintings.
His obvious talent was spotted early in school, and his family encouraged him to pursue art, even though there was concern that he may not be able to carve out a lucrative enough career. He took the plunge, and attended an Arts Foundation Course at Great Yarmouth School of Art, annexed to the Norwich Schools. He spent two years there, and because he was already so proficient, he was able to spend much of the time roaming free, developing his skills and painting the Norfolk Broads.
He went for interview at Winchester School of Art and had a ‘dream-start’ when his future tutor bought one of his paintings during the interview.
At the time, the art schools were embracing the new movement of modern abstract expressionism. This meant that the traditional teaching of drawing and painting figuratively was being left behind. Rodney had been led to believe by his tutor at interview that he would be able to continue to learn these skills, but when he arrived at art college the tutor was no longer there.
Following intense disagreements over the college’s teaching methods, Rodney left during the first year, returning his maintenance grant to a rather bewildered West Suffolk Education Authority. He launched himself into painting full-time, and was doing well enough to make a living, still at home and under no pressure from his parents. He would get together a body of work to put on a one man show, which would generate enough income to keep him going through to the next one.
In 1973 he met Patricia, his future wife, at one of his exhibitions, who became a huge part of his life and financial stability. As Rodney comments: “Pat was always the one who had a ‘proper’ job and a regular supply of income.”
They lived a fairly bohemian existence in rented cottages, often attached to farms where Rodney could indulge his great love of painting ‘plein air’. He would supplement his income from painting with occasionally helping out on the farm, and some of these early experiences influenced his work. Turkey Pluckers captures one of these moments perfectly.
During these early years Rodney developed a rhythm of producing one portrait, one painting of a domestic house, and one ‘plein air’ landscape study every week. He bumped along in this way quite satisfactorily for several years until an event completely altered his life. He had given a portrait of Lester Piggott to a friend of his, only to find that the friend had reproduced the portrait commercially as a print, and it was being advertised for sale in the racing press.
Rodney objected and was ready to pursue the matter through the courts. But his lawyers were not willing to take on his case unless he had a regular source of income.
So he was forced to take a job with a regular salary with a lighting company, which led to a lifelong parallel career in lighting design. He won the legal case and continued to work as a consultant in the lighting industry, where he developed the use of fibre optic lights to illuminate objects displayed in prestigious museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Science and British Museums in London.
As Rodney says: “I have ended up living the dream. I am painting, I am using my lighting expertise and designs to light artefacts and paintings in museums and galleries, in a way that helps to teach others about the things I have loved throughout my career. What more could I want?”
In 1985 Rodney had a painting chosen for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, an enormous achievement of which he is justifiably proud. I recently overheard a conversation in an art group where the subject turned to what kind of thing the group members would do if they won the National Lottery.
One of the students asked the tutor, a professional artist, if he would continue to paint. The tutor looked slightly puzzled and replied: “Of course, painting has got nothing to do with money.”
I think Rodney Bastable would have exactly the same response.
Rod Bastable’s work will feature in an exhibition, People and Places, at the Edmondson Hall Gallery, Newmarket in the new year. He has a permanent exhibition space at King’s Restaurant and Function Centre, Kingston Passage, Newmarket, CB8 8UG (T:01638 660668), open daily.