11 November 2020

Bob Brighton collection: A life in colour

The University heritage collection consists of thousands of objects that the University of Sheffield has acquired since its foundation in 1905.

Image of Bob Brighton stood in front of a large colour wheel
Image of Bob Brighton stood in front of a large colour wheel

These include oil paintings, watercolours, sculpture, art glassware, medals, silver, scientific instruments and natural history specimens.

The University also has two dedicated permanent displays in The Turner Museum of Glass and the Alfred Denny Museum of Zoology.

One area of the collection contains over two hundred artworks by British artist Bob Brighton, who originally donated twenty-nine of his paintings to the University for the newly built Information Commons (IC) building back in 2007.

The interior of the IC is about light, space and colour and it was clear from the outset that Bob’s paintings would work well in this building.

From this, Bob struck up a relationship with the University and in October 2013 he donated his final three pieces of work: ‘My Horizon’; ‘My Journey’; ‘My End; My Beginning’, together with over one hundred and seventy other paintings and associated archival material and sketchbooks.

Bob’s biography

Robert Leonard George Meaton was born in Brighton in 1936. He worked hard at school and did quite well academically.

This led to a five-year study at Brighton College of Art and Craft. Bob felt that college helped him to develop his observational skills, but he found the environment was too constrained for his rich imagination.

In 1958, aged twenty-one, Bob left college to commence a transitional period which he refers to as his ‘apprenticeship’.

During the 1960s, he worked as an art teacher but from the 1970s Bob dedicated more time to making art to accommodate his passion for painting.

A heart condition, discovered in the 1980s, changed his perspective on life and became a major turning point for him. He recalls thinking: "If I don’t become a full-time artist now, I probably never will", so that’s exactly what he did.

His first public show was held at Worthing Art Gallery in 1987. As homage to his birthplace, Bob Meaton exhibited as Bob Brighton which is the public name he has used ever since.

In 1988 Bob moved into a house on the Worthing seafront and began to paint seriously. For the first time in his life, he had the money and the space and the time to focus on his art and he became a very prolific artist.

In 1992, an old artist friend Brian Blanchflower, who he met at Brighton College of Art and Craft in the 1950s and was a successful artist in Australia, invited Bob to join him for six months to collaborate on an exhibition at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA). The show was a great success beyond Bob’s wildest expectations. 

Resulting from the exhibition at PICA, The Murdoch University in Perth, which has a policy of acquiring work from aspiring artists, was so impressed with Bob’s works that they took acquisition of nine large paintings and six small collages.

The Royal Perth Hospital and the Sir Charles Gardner Hospital also subsequently accepted donations from Bob. As well as the success of the exhibition, of equal importance for Bob, was that during his stay he was able to create a formidable amount of new pieces working in Brian Blanchflower’s studio and his success grew in Australia.

Bob then moved back to England during the 1990s and although he did some more teaching in Denmark, he continued to focus on producing new art.

Bob’s philosophy

Bob’s philosophy was that colour is not something he used for effect, but more to enjoy a profound relationship with it.

"For me, there is no other language quite so eloquent. This is the excitement of it all – I am still trying to understand what colour is and has to say. It is my personal adventure.

"Of course, the way people see my paintings is up to them. I certainly wouldn’t tell them what they should be experiencing. That would be the same as thinking I could run their lives.

"At the end of the day, the viewer is equal to the creator. They must do as I do – fend for themselves.’

"I am a world artist. A world artist is someone who absorbs ALL cultures into their own way of understanding. A world artist, a world person, a world human has to feel truly responsible for what is – and realise that all peoples and all attitudes have a relevant and meaningful place in the total scheme of things.

"This is essentially what I have been talking about in my attitude to colour."

Art beyond the art gallery

Bob’s encompassing vision meant that he did not want his paintings to be confined to conventional art galleries. So, whilst prestigious institutions such as the Art Gallery of Western Australia have collections of his work, the majority of his paintings are displayed in universities, libraries, hospitals and schools.

These include Murdoch University, Australia; Imperial College, London; the Espoo Cultural Centre in Finland; the museum and library in Skive, Denmark; Roberto del Rio children’s hospital in Santiago, Chile; Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospital, London as well as numerous schools.

Bob chose to live frugally so that he could paint full-time. He felt that this allowed the work to be the product of uncompromised creativity. His financial situation was not eased by his philosophy of freely donating his paintings and. With any paintings he sold, he gave the money to charity.

It has always been the knowledge and reassurance that his paintings are seen by more people every day than if they had been hung in the Tate Gallery which gave Bob enormous satisfaction: 

"How I see it is, I’m not giving anything away, I’m just finding a home for my work. I’m sharing it with other people. I’ve never been interested in money. I’m giving back to life what life has given me."

In 2012, Bob made the decision to retire from art and in 2017, he sadly passed away. An exhibition of Bob’s works from the collection was exhibited in Western Bank Library in 2014.

The University is privileged to be entrusted with his paintings; Bob was renowned as a truly colourful character and his work continues to be enjoyed by visitors and users of the Information Commons building every day.

Emily Green, University heritage collections manager.

For more like this, check our Unique and Distinctive Collections blog pages!

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