• Karen Thomas

A week with Herman Pekel

A handful of the worlds most celebrated watercolourists hail from Australia. One or two of them even brave our climate to come and show us a thing or two! So it was that Herman made the trek to Dedham Hall, Constable Country, to share his vision with a group of us excitable artists. For the uninitiated, Herman usually takes the comedy role when doing large paintings in a series of clips which can be found on YouTube as part of The Three Amigos, Joseph Zbukvic, Alvaro Castagnet and himself. Herman can be seen spraying the others with water, spitting at the painting to create texture, getting messy and generally winding up his companions. All three are astoundingly good artists, and Herman's passion is painting Aussie bush scenes filled with depth and light. Herman hold some very definite - he would probably say definitive - views on art and is clearly used to talking in terms of absolutes. He is dismissive of a lot of our British watercolourists, claiming that "you can't be a gentleman and produce great art, you have to be a bit hungry". He might be right but that is a whole other discussion. Certainly he is known as an expert in design & composition. However, I can't help holding the more prosaic view that art started with cavemen and belongs to the masses, not just those upon whom the best fine art degrees have been bestowed. I hold my influences and their heritage close to my heart and nothing could persuade me to believe there is an absence of greatness or passion in the work I love. If you can get past this, Herman can be a lot of fun and is generous with his time, knowledge and methods. Known for his energy and enthusiasm, the demonstrations in the studio are as stunning and inspiring as you'd expect, in particular the pure landscapes. There's plenty of individual attention. He's good-natured in his acceptance of our heckling that Aussie-shaped trees have suddenly appeared in Constable country! Like many artists, he's not overly keen on the shape of British trees in full foliage and keeps pruning them. We take him to iconic Pin Mill, where he grapples gamely with unfamiliar boats, mud flats and light. Used to warmer climes, he disappears for a run to warm up between watercolour washes! Later in the week, he makes a sterling job of Lavenham, an olde-world-beamed-houses sort of place that a lot of people consider unpaintable. But it is back in the studio that the real learning of the week happens. Herman is a hard worker and comes back into the studio with us all after dinner. Adopting a stage by stage approach, he breaks down his secrets of light and form until the work scattered around the studio looks as good as an exhibition about to open, and that's just from us students! I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to learn directly from this artist of such skill and vision. Over the next months, the fascinating (well, for me) process of seeing how the new learning permeates my work is something I'll look forward to. I hope you enjoy some of the work I completed under instruction during the week!

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