Peter Brook: Tribute to a modest artist who brought life to the landscape

A Yorkshireman who preferred handshakes to contracts is being celebrated in a new exhibition. Arts reporter Nick Ahad on Peter Brook.

How modest was artist Peter Brook?

When Mike Baggs, the owner of the Huddersfield gallery which represented the painter, discovered that Brook's work was collected by the late James Mason, he was surprised.

"I saw something in a book about James Mason collecting his work and asked Peter about it. He just said, 'Oh James, yes, he's a friend' and showed me a photograph of the two of them – that was hidden behind the coats hung up in the hall.

"He was a modest man. Genuine, private, and above all, modest."

Baggs's AC Gallery in Huddersfield represented Brook from 1999, until his death in November last year at the age of 81.

For the past six years the gallery has held a show featuring Brook's work.

This year it is being staged in his memory.

"I do miss him. Despite being as old as he was, he enjoyed texting and would often send me messages in 'text speech' although I didn't always understand what he was saying," says Baggs.

"It will be good to have his work here in the gallery again and remember him."

Peter Brook was born in the Pennine village of Scholes, near Holmfirth. His farmer parents saw their son grow up among milk carts and the surrounding rolling hills – scenes which would continue to inspire the painter throughout his life.

He was educated at Barnsley Grammar School before training as a teacher at Goldsmiths College, where he first began to develop his interest in art, visiting exhibitions and galleries in London.

After his training, he returned to Yorkshire, became a teacher in Rastrick, near Brighouse and married his wife Molly. His passion for art led him to paint incessantly, drawing on the surrounding landscape for inspiration. By 1960, ploughing his own furrow had paid dividends and he had a solo exhibition at Wakefield City Art Gallery.

Two years later, by then teaching art at Sowerby Bridge Grammar School, he had been elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists.

Two very successful exhibitions in the Queens Square Art Gallery, Leeds, in the mid-Sixties were followed by another show at the University of York in 1968.

His work was picked up by London art dealers Agnews and his first two shows with the gallery were sell-outs. In 1974, such was his stature, that he was commissioned to design the Oxford University Almanac.

Despite increasing success, Brook stayed in his beloved Yorkshire and the landscape that inspired him. This was also despite the fact that he had won a number of impressive fans with his London exhibition – as well as James Mason, Tom Courtenay, Tommy Steele and Rodney Bewes all bought his work.

The AC Gallery is a family business that had a long relationship with Brook. Mike Baggs is the third in his generation to take the reins of the gallery.

"Years ago it was an art shop, rather than a gallery, but my dad used to sell paint and equipment to Peter," says Baggs.

"I saw some of his work back in 1998 and I called him to see if I could meet him.

"At the time, he wasn't really represented by a gallery, he just sold work from his home – he had plenty of fans who were interested in buying his work."

Baggs suggested that the AC Gallery could start to represent him and, with a handshake, a deal was struck.

"He didn't believe in contracts. He was an old- fashioned Yorkshireman and a handshake was good enough for him."

The gallery began to show bits and pieces of Brook's work and then, in 2004, it was clear that the demand was big enough that the gallery could accommodate exhibitions focused entirely on the painter.

"For six years, every year now, we have dedicated the whole gallery to his work and had an exhibition that was entirely made up of originals and prints," says Baggs.

The exhibition, which previewed last night, opens to the public

today, and Baggs says it will feel particularly poignant.

"He wasn't the sort of person that particularly enjoyed his openings – he enjoyed the fact that people liked his work, but he wasn't a big one for preview evenings or openings of his exhibitions," says Baggs.

"Even so, it will be strange to have his show without him being present for the first time. I'm sure I'll have a lump in my throat."

Peter Brook: AC Gallery, Byram Street, Huddersfield.

To October 30.