Bringing home artist's 'dreams and nightmares' of Sheffield
An art historian is on a mission to bring the world of a renowned painter back home to Sheffield.
Lynn Brunet, from Australia, has spent several years studying the art of Peter Booth, who is famous Down Under for his haunting work inspired by steelworks and Sheffield landscapes.
Lynn described him as a ‘tortured artist’ and said: “They’re usually the ones with the most interesting work.”
She added: “They’re startling images. There are all these memories based on his childhood dreams and nightmares. It’s a collection of a lot about Sheffield that he stored in his subconscious. I think he’s one fascinating artist, which is always good to work with.
“I did as much as I could do in Australia but it’s now meant coming to Sheffield to actually do more research here, with the hope that he’d start to become more known here and I’d love to be able to have an exhibition of his work in Sheffield - that would be my dream.”
Lynn said Peter was born during World War II, grew up in a house on Mushroom Lane off Crookes Valley Road, worked as a copyboy for the Sheffield Telegraph and studied art at Sheffield College before he moved with his family to Australia aged 17 and later became an art teacher and painter.
He came from a long line of steelworkers with relatives employed as a steel chemist, cutler, silver burnisher, cutlery buffer and a saw maker.
His paintings often feature dramatic scenes with shadowy figures – human and mutant – in black, red and grey landscapes.
Lynn said: “He can’t explain what his work is about - he was originally doing abstract expressionist paintings of just black canvas with lots of flames which he said was from when his father used to take him into the steelworks but after a while the figures started emerging.
“My work was to look at all the folklore and local elements that relate to it because other people who have written about it have talked about his work in terms of literature and what he might have read but he told me ‘I’ve never been a reader. I grew up in very poor circumstances, we never had books.’ He said he went to uni but only read one book on shamanism - he just wanted to paint.”
Lynn said she interpreted some of his pieces as fraternity ‘initiations’ people may have been expected to complete when they joined the steelworks. “I’ve got a project I’ve been doing since 1999 on initiation rights and how they may be appearing in some form in the world of art. Peter Booth’s work is so bizarre and unusual that I decided I’d start looking at his.
“It took me back to his life in Sheffield and the various groups who do initiation rights but there are a lot of groups that were here that I’ve got to do some more research on. I started seeing that a lot of these bizarre images in some ways matched some of the rituals so I’ve pursued it down that line. There’s also a lot of his work that’s not about that, there’s a lot about the environment - he did a series of winter paintings which is really all Sheffield landscapes.”
Lynn recently gave a talk at Sheffield Hallam’s Centre for Contemporary Legend Folklore on Screen conference and during her stay carried out more research on his life. Dr David Clarke, co-founder of the CCL, said: “His art is famous Down Under but virtually unknown in his home town, despite the fact that it was inspired by the landscape and in particular the steelworks and industrial heritage that Peter was exposed to in his youth. The CCL is proud to have played a small part in bringing Peter's art back to the city, via the talk by Lynn Brunet at our conference. I hope that at some stage he will visit the city and that Sheffield Museum will consider an exhibition of his work.”
Lynn said the artist was now 79 and ‘very sprightly as ever’. “He’s still painting. He’d done a few things with Australia but it always goes back to Sheffield but a lot of it is images of men in quite frightening masks and that sort of thing.”
She now hopes to bring an exhibition of his work home to the Steel City and track down people who knew him or his family. “He only came back here once and said he talked to a gallery but they didn’t have the money but it would be lovely to have his work shown here and get him known.”
Anyone who knows Peter Booth, his family or has more information about initiations in the steelworks should contact reporter Molly Williams at [email protected] via email.