Patrick Burke 1932 – 2010
28 October 1932
Born at 2 Upper Shoreham Road, Kingston-by-Sea, Shoreham, Sussex. His mother, Mary Ann Burke, was a single woman working as a domestic servant in Hove and living in Worthing. She named him Leslie Patrick Burke but, as an adult, he never used the name Leslie. Attended Varndean Grammar School for Boys
1949 – 1953
Studied at Brighton College of Art
Married Daphne Frances Langley (divorced 1957)
National Service (in the Army) at some point
Won the Prix de Rome (Engraving)
Married Pamela Kenward (divorced 1961)
1957 – 1959
1959 – 61
Taught drawing at Wolverhampton College of Art
Living and working in Rome
Married Sarah Clevely (divorced 1967)
Taught part-time at Brighton College of Art, then full-time. The College of Art later became part of Brighton Polytechnic
Married Sally Blanche Dutton (divorced 1981)
Head of Painting, Brighton Polytechnic
Retired from Brighton Polytechnic. Moved to Spoleto, Italy but returned to England within a month, to live in New Church Road, Hove, then in Brunswick Square, Hove
Teaching visit to the Gozo School of Art
31 October 2010
Died, Brighton, Sussex
A brief account of the life of Patrick Burke.
Patrick started to draw as a child and never stopped. To his great good fortune his talent was recognised at school by an inspirational teacher, Matt Bruce, and recognised again by the award of the Rome Scholarship for etching. His etchings show his skill as a draughtsman, his expertise in picture composition, and his talent for endowing a picture with ‘mood’, but give no hint of the direction his work was to take.
He himself said that it was the move to Rome in 1957 that changed everything. He became alive to the possibilities of colour and was soon working in pure abstraction. His close relationship with the George Lester Gallery led to success in Rome and in New York.
His works on paper from the 1960s show a return to a figurative style. The influence of Magritte, Mondrian and Wyndham Lewis are obvious.
By the 1970s he had found his own style. It was a conflation of the abstract and the figurative and he continued to work in this way for the rest of his life, with only a few exceptions. The work for the next 25 years was colourful and vigorous, full of playful images that repeat from work to work, as well as references to the work of other artists. The already noted expertise in draughtsmanship, composition and expression of mood was further developed.
For decades he had planned to retire to Italy. When he did so, in 1991, he realised within three weeks that it was a mistake. His success as a good looking young man in Rome, making exciting new paintings, could not be replicated as an older man in Spoleto, painting in a style that was no longer fashionable.
His work after his return to Brighton and Hove is, at first, hard to recognise as being by the same artist. The predominant colour is grey and the mood is bleak. Finding a garret flat to rent in Brunswick Square, Hove, was a help and his painting gradually took on a lighter
note. His fascination with people returned. Among others, he painted a series of promenade paintings, initially of people (and a bicycle) on Brighton seafront, culminating in Grand Promenade, a painting packed with bizarre characters on a sea shore with a ship out at sea – a painting that he said, in a rare word of explanation, was based on The Embarkation for Cythera by Watteau (1717).
In his later years he developed severe back pain, which made it difficult to stand at an easel for long periods. His work became sparser, his colours more muted, but his ability to compose a picture and his interest in the characters in it remained undimmed. When I referred to these late paintings as being like Beethoven’s late string quartets, work trimmed down to its essence, he didn’t disagree.
Patrick was a man of enormous charm and a very short temper, widely educated in many different cultures – poetry and music as well as painting – but at times hopelessly naive about more practical aspects of life. He had a sense of integrity that even he found hard to live with, destroying paintings that he could have sold but he thought weren’t good enough, and refusing to sell to people he thought didn’t understand the work.
He spent much of his life teaching and was himself an inspirational teacher. It was natural for him to champion his students, or at least those who cared about the art of painting as opposed to the fame they hoped would be theirs. The price he had to pay was the tedium of administration which he loathed.
He once remarked that the paintings weren’t important; that they were like footprints in snow: merely evidence that a journey had been made. To Patrick it was the journey that mattered. For those of us who loved him, what we have is the paintings. This website has been set up because we think those paintings matter.
One Man Shows:
George Lester Gallery, Rome
The Alan Gallery, New York
The Alan Gallery, New York
Illustrations for ‘Voices’ Antonio Porchia translated by W.S.Merwin. Hand Printed by Roy Watkins Embers Press
Brighton Polytechnic Gallery
Charleston Gallery, Sussex
Milan, Turin, Copenhagen, Tokyo and London