Kitchen Sink Art. It's hard to imagine these 1950's canvases as once being thought controversial, offensive or vulgar. They are all paintings (barring the film poster) by my current favourite British artist John Bratby, and yes, it would be no exaggeration to say Bratby was briefly the Damien Hirst of his day, thickly daubing provincial back-yards, washing lines, chip-pans and toilet bowls to the horror of the refined sensibilities of mid- 20th Century Royal Academicians. Disgusted art critic David Sylvester coined the term "Kitchen Sink Painters" to denigrate John Bratby and his associates, who insisted on depicting the drab, grey, mundane, musty and rusty.
John Bratby's notoriety was abruptly cut short by the onset of the swinging 1960s and the heavily publicised Pop Art of David Hockney, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton and Allen Jones. Their cool paintings and sculptures referenced international Pop Culture, and the glamorous influence of the USA media. 1950's UK Kitchen Sink art was suddenly and cruelly consigned to the critical scrap-heap and consequently meant that a Bratby canvas could still be bought for under £10,000 in 2005.
Much as I enjoy 60s British Pop Art as a visual counterpart to the revolutions of the Fab Four, Psychedelia etc. I now prefer to hanker after the smelly oil-paint, crew-neck jumper and goatee bearded art of the former Kitchen Sink era. This alluring, semi-forgotten bohemian world has a lineage that goes back to the heyday of the Slade School of Art, the dingy realism of Walter Sickert and the dank, gas-lit interiors of the Camden Town Group.
What clinches Bratby's artistic appeal for me is discovering he was still in favour enough to be commissioned to paint the giant canvases for the film The Horses Mouth. In this fine 1958 movie, based on Joyce Cary's classic novel, Alec Guinness plays maverick artist Gully Jimson, a bearded eccentric not unlike John Bratby.
Alec Guinness, Joyce Cary, John Bratby. In UK cultural terms I can't currently think of anything currently more appealing And what could be more in need of re-discovery? I hear the Saatchi brothers recently bought and displayed a brace of choice 1950s Bratby pictures. But how many more will look beyond the glitz of the Sixties to stare into the greasy water of the Fifties kitchen sink?