Extracts from Peter Iden: Versions of the Downland

* Extract from the chapter 'Beginnings of a career' by Mary Iden

In early 1962, Peter Iden was living at home with his parents, and studying for O levels at William Fletcher Secondary School in Bognor. By 1977, he was a successful and locally well known self-employed artist living in a large flat in Fishbourne. The intervening years are described below, the information being drawn from the large collection of letters and other documents that he amassed throughout his career, carefully filed away in scrapbooks and lever files.

From the Principal, West Sussex College of Art, Worthing, 6th April 1962

Dear Iden, Thank you for your letter…….from which I note that you are taking a useful GCE group of subjects. ….If I may advise you I would say that it is important to concentrate on all the subjects except art, to make sure that you pass and begin your art specialist study with confidence.
I wonder if you could come to see me with your work on Monday of next week? I will then let you know whether or not I can invite you to take the entrance examination. ….

8th June 1962
I have pleasure to inform you that you have passed the entrance examination of the college and that a place will be available for you for the new session in September………..

Alas, his GCE ‘O’ Level certificate (Summer 1962) shows him failing English Language, English Literature, Mathematics and Geometrical Drawing. Art was his only pass. As mentioned in the previous chapter, Peter was not particularly academic, but even so these ‘O’ level results must have been a disappointment. However, he did eventually manage to pass Mathematics and English O levels (these were a prerequisite for the Art College course). Once he was there, things still did not always run easily. Part of his Student Progress Report for Summer 1964 reads:

Subject Remarks
Life Drawing Occasionally does a good drawing but seems to lack confidence in
himself. Needs more attack
Process Drawing Very slow but has turned out some good work this term.
Nature Design Quite good work. Still a little inhibited!
Lettering Neat and careful, his work suffers from general slowness in all aspects.
Practical Perspective First class at this subject. Has just the right outlook and feel for
architectural studies.

He left college in 1965 to start work at Gregory Housing Limited in Worthing as a member of the Layout Presentation Section. He stayed there for 2 years, before taking the plunge and handing in his notice to start a career as a self employed artist. In October 1967, he sent the following letter to local architects.
Dear Sir,
For a number of years I have been working as a perspective artist in the employment of a firm of architects and have now decided to work as a free-lance artist in this field.
I am now available to undertake work of this or a similar nature and should be pleased to furnish you with samples on request. If you require my services I am able to visit you at any time.
Yours faithfully
Peter Iden

A number replied positively to this letter, and were very satisfied with the work that he subsequently did for them.

Many thanks for the perspective of the bungalow, which we find admirable for our purpose.

We have pleasure in enclosing our cheque for the perspective drawing of the housing development. This was very favourably received by the committee and we feel was a great help in illustrating our ideas.

I am wondering if you would be interested in doing a perspective of the enclosed development. ….There will be some planting along the front and, to this end, you may like to use artist’s licence.
As you will see, they are fairly nasty houses and I will be grateful if you can make them look as attractive as possible…..

We enclose a copy of a perspective drawing prepared by one of our architects showing one of the three bungalow types we will be building……
We feel that his presentation is more surrealistic than realistic and we would like to know if you would be interested in preparing a more acceptable drawing…….

But meanwhile Peter continued to paint topographical and architectural watercolours. In autumn of 1968, he held his first one-man exhibition in Gough’s Gallery, Bognor Regis. This was astonishingly successful with 44 out of 54 pictures being sold. Many of the paintings depicted parts of Bognor that were earmarked for demolition in the name of ‘progress’.

Dear Mr Iden,
Do you think you could paint me No 4 Steyne Street before it disappears? We used to spend childhood holidays there, so it is very precious and I feel very sad that the street will be demolished.

A number of artists were encountering his paintings, liked what they saw, and gave him encouragement and advice.

Sven Berlin (artist and author) writes in August 1968:
Dear Peter,
There is a lot on, my car is misbehaving, and it is doubtful if I can to see your show at Bognor [Peter’s first exhibition]. But I write to wish you good luck, good sales and wide appreciation. The first show is nerve-straining (so is the 24th)…but take it quietly and ignore the fools: that deals with 50%. The cruel ones 25%. The other 24% just don’t know, and 1% will be of kindred spirit.
You cannot do better than follow the English watercolour Artists. Don’t forget Constable and Turner… I still learn from them….Hold on to your self-employment – don’t work for a Gaffer: he is the evil one who takes your soul. Stick it out… When one slab of ice melts you step onto another: and you start to laugh. Above all keep on drawing and painting: it comes on its own in the end.

Lance Cattermole (Illustration artist) writes in November 1968:
I am very pleased to be able to tell you that you were elected to membership of the Society of Sussex Painters last night by 17 votes out of 20! I am so very glad. There was no question about it. There were only 2 elected this year. I take back all I said about your big water-colour! The moment I saw it in that Gallery I liked it enormously….. Keep on working humbly and sincerely and I feel that there are great prizes in store for you. You should be at your prime when this foolish abstraction is over and there is a return to rational art.

Charles Morris writes in October 1970:
Badmin and I wondered if you might be interested in putting up for the RWS? If so we should be pleased to support your application.

Peter does not appear to have ’put up’, but continued with his annual exhibitions, usually in Chichester, though also in other locations including Arundel, Guildford, Ludlow, Cambridge, Lewes and Rye. He was almost always very successful, particularly in his Chichester one-man shows, and more often than not sold over half of the paintings in his exhibitions there. Before he moved onto oils, he regularly had at least one painting accepted in the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour summer exhibition in London.
His architectural perspective work continued, though he did less of this as time went by. He accepted commissions for paintings from individuals as well. There were a few unusual requests:

September 1970:
Some long time ago, I think it was when you were having an exhibition at Goughs, I brought along a photo of the night they blitzed London, and asked you if you could colour same to show the fire effects. I wonder if you have been able to do that? If not I would like it back (I want to give it to my brother)……

July 1975:
At the preview of the Chichester Art Exhibition we were interested to see your (watercolour) painting of St ***’s Street featuring our house prominently in the foreground. We like it very much and have bought it. However there is one little thing: as neither of us ride a bike I wonder would it be possible for you to erase the one straight in front of our front door? As I only do oils myself, I don’t know if it would be possible to do this without spoiling the picture.