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Bernard Cheese From Fisherman to the Fields

August 23, 2021

Bernard Cheese (1925-2013) was born in Sydenham, Kent and went on to train at the Beckenham School of Art. In 1947, he enrolled at the Royal College of Art. There, Cheese’s enthusiasm for lithography was fired by Edwin La Dell, who had set up a lithographic workshop modelled on Parisian ateliers. La Dell encouraged Cheese to go out into the streets to record London life in the markets, pubs and parks and to mingle with the crowd, sketchbook in hand, and observe. Over eight decades, Cheese became an enthusiastic observer of British society.

At the Royal College, Cheese met a fellow student, Sheila Robinson, the Nottinghamshire-born printmaker and illustrator. They married in 1951 and set up home in Beaufort Street, Chelsea. Both artists worked on Festival of Britain murals alongside their art-school tutor and close friend Edward Bawden. Bernard’s mural was in the Shot Tower (demolished to make way for the Queen Elizabeth Hall), it was called Kaleidoscope and circled the tower. The boards they were painted on have been lost and are presummed to be destoryed. It was at this time Cheese was getting work as a commersial artist with a set of posters and decorations for London Transport and printed by the Baynard Press.

Their first child, Chloe, now a celebrated artist in her own right, was born in 1952. Bawden introduced the couple to Great Bardfield, a village in Essex. In 1953, they moved to Bardfield End Green at Thaxted, where their son, Benjamin, was born the following year. Cheese established his studio at a former fish and chip shop in Great Bardfield. Both he and his wife taught printmaking at London art schools: Cheese at St Martin’s School of Art (1950-68) and Robinson at the Royal College.

Great Bardfield was a quintessentially English village – a thriving community with butcher, ironmonger, grocer and, remarkably, a close gathering of artists who, by design or happy coincidence, lived and worked in or around the village. The Cheeses would soon enjoy their friendship and support, contributing to regular “open house” exhibitions. Among their artist neighbours were Edward and Charlotte Bawden, John Aldridge, George and Kate Chapman, Michael and Duffy Rothenstein, and the textile designer Marianne Straub.

In 1957, Bernard and Sheila separated. The following year they were divorced and Bernard married his former student Brenda Latham Brown. They moved to nearby Stisted, where their daughters, Joanna and Sarah, were born. For a studio, Cheese rented a Sunday school room. The 1950s and 60s saw great innovation nd diversity in British printmaking. Lithography had become the favoured medium of the younger generation and there were more opportunities to publish and exhibit prints. Cheese was now showing as far afield as Beijing (1956), Stockholm (1960), Washington DC (1962) and New York (1968).

A regular exhibitor of fine art prints, he also worked on commissions for poster designs and illustration. In 1951, London Transport commissioned the first of several posters, Pantomimes and Circuses. La Dell asked him to contribute to Coronation Lithographs, a portfolio of 40 prints by staff and former students of the Royal College for a celebratory exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1953. The brewers Guinness – seeking to establish a market for unsigned lithographs for display in pubs – commissioned A Fisherman’s Story in 1956.

Choosing his subject from the Guinness Book of Records, Cheese shows a contented fisherman on a bar stool, arms outstretched, a half-empty glass of ale in one hand, pipe in the other, boasting of his day’s catch to the barman and all in earshot. Other clients ranged from the BBC and A&C Black to P&O Cruises.

After leaving St Martin’s, Cheese was appointed senior lecturer at Goldsmiths College (1970-78) and taught part-time at Central School of Art and Design, London (1980-89). He and Brenda separated in 1988 and divorced in 1992. Cheese then settled in Nayland, north of Colchester. While he continued to travel in search of new subjects for watercolours that he subsequently reworked as lithographs, he turned increasingly to delightfully idiosyncratic still-life arrangements such as Trout on a Plate and Victoria Plums and English Coxs. Though Cheese’s work often comes across as whimsical, his seemingly light-hearted touch is rooted in sound draughtsmanship and a well-structured composition.

Here are a few beautiful illustrations from his time in the French countryside.

He captures this scene at differet times of the year, exploring how the seasons change the colours and the appearance of the land.

In later years there were numerous invitations to stage solo exhibitions. His works were acquired by many important collections, from the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Collection to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and New York Public Library. With more than 100 lithographs and watercolours, Aberystwyth University holds the largest public collection of his works. However, accolades were long overdue. Cheese was not elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers until 1988, more than 40 years after he made his first print.

I love his work observing fisherman on the coast, taking in their routines, the way that they work and again how the textures of the fishing nets and the changing colours of the sea and sky, help to form a scene.

Through viewing Bernard’s work all together, I notice just how he has spent observing and capturing the world of these fisherman. Watching their everyday activities and illustrating their lives. He has created an illustrative journal of their time with the sea.

Not to forget his sense of humour, seen clearly here in this last image, where all the seagulls are eyeing up the couple and waiting patiently for their leftover scraps.

Wonderful work, I’m sure you’ll agree.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Christopher Read permalink
    August 23, 2021 11:55 am

    A wonderful post, thank you

  2. Lori Doody permalink
    August 23, 2021 12:21 pm

    Thank you for putting this together. I look forward to Monday mornings because of your posts.

    • August 23, 2021 12:28 pm

      Lovely to hear it Lori, thank you for letting me know

  3. Bridget Gander permalink
    August 23, 2021 7:14 pm

    Thank you so much for introducing me to different artists. Your posts give me so much pleasure.

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