Peter Batten muses about Art…
James Middleton was a large man, large in size and large in personality. Once a Cornish rugby player, he won an MC in World War I. At St Olave’s School in Southwark he was my Art teacher.
It was my good fortune to meet him at a time in my life when I needed a role model. Also, I was beginning to discover what interests in life I might enjoy. Without ever showing feelings of self-importance, he possessed a quiet confidence and dignity. I soon began to admire his talent. As a founder member of the Wapping group of artists he spent most of his spare time painting the many ships and barges to be seen along the Thames near St Olave’s. [A few schoolboy jokes were made by the obvious pun connecting his size with “Wapping”] Above all, he taught me about Art. Because I had so much respect for him, I felt that Art must be something I should learn to admire and enjoy. He told us about various schools and periods, always with practical illustrations. I vividly remember his imitation of the stained-glass-like paintings of Rouault and his demonstration of the way in which a modern portrait painter might start to develop a painting. By the time I left school I was making regular visits to London’s many galleries.
The words which I have used above are quite inadequate to describe either of these artists and what they have to say about human experience. They far surpass all the other British painters of the last 50-60 years. And I have lived through these years, when Britain produced not one, but two artists of international stature. It may seem very strange to those for whom, sadly, Art is not important, but I feel very proud to have been alive during this time, to be able to witness such superb achievement and to have my own sense of life’s awful mixture of beauty and ugliness, the meaningful and the meaningless, deepened and made more complex by two such masters.