Way back in the '90s, I was making haste through the centre of Bath (towards a bookshop). I was in a hurry because the rain was beating down in a deluge - and the busy crowd of other shoppers were all doing the same thing - dashing along - except for this weirdo under a gigantic fishing umbrella, who had an easel up and was making an oil painting! I had no idea who it was at the time but that was my first encounter with Pete "the Street" Brown and his art. Imagine my amusement, then, when the first anecdote in this book is about painting in the centre of Bath under a fishing umbrella, during a downpour...
That word "anecdote" is the difference between this and every other art book I've ever read. It's a standard format; there's an Introduction by an art historian, setting Brown in a historical context, then a large collection of high quality reproductions. The unusual thing is that most pictures, along with the usual details about the size, date and medium, also have a commentary by the painter himself. These commentaries primarily consist of anecdotes about the origins of the work and life as a street artist and are generally quite amusing, certainly never boring. (None is long enough to get boring.) He talks a bit about what interests him artistically but he could never sanely be accused of intellectual pretension - in fact Brown comes over as an exceptionally down-to-earth bloke just trying to make a living doing what he loves and initially struggling.
The book consists mainly of oil paintings but there are also charcoal sketches and one pastel. As the title suggests, all the images are of Bath; many are street scenes - where the life of the city is as prominent as the extraordinary architecture and the amazing diversity of light and weather - but some are views from up on the surrounding downs, again in all weathers.
I suppose one has to describe his work as impressionistic but he doesn't remind me all that much of those famous French painters, despite the common concerns with plein air and ephemeral effects of light.
Peter Brown is held in great affection as an artist by the people of Bath, partly because he's just so good but also because of his approachability and his concern with capturing "ordinary" life in the city - a city where residents often feel that they are treated as secondary to the many tourists by the powers that be.
Brown has branched out somewhat, painting in other towns some of the time in recent years, but he will always be Pete the Street to the folks who frequent the grand old City of Bath.