Of all the British artists who ever made a colour woodcut, Kenneth Broad is the most informative (and I say this in the face of fairly strong opposition from the likes of Allen Seaby and Ethel Kirkpatrick). I couldn't find a better example to show you what I mean than this photographic study of Broad at work in the fields. It's the architect-artist on default setting: the use of strict perspective, the interest in contemporary dress, the almost anonymous face, the trees - all these things find their way into his small masterpiece The New Fair, Mitcham and I would find it hard to believe that Broad hadn't posed the photo himself, probably for his wife Mary to take, simply because there is a similar photograph taken from the other side - you can just see his painting clobber beyond the stool, including his Army small pack ( a very blokish touch).
Broad's prints are often like Hogarth's. They tell you alot. The photo is equaly calculating: not only is this what he looks like (more or less) it also shows what he is painting, and where the subject stands; it says he sketches outdoors and sits well back from his subject. On many of his crowded scenes there is empty space in the foreground where Broad has set up his collapsible easel and stool and set to work. He isn't avoiding the crowd; he only wants to get it all in. There is the same wide view in A Sussex Farm (see Kenneth Broad Town & country) even though there are only clothes without people in that woodcut.
Both prints date from 1925 and The New Fair, Mitcham almost certainly comes second because he couldn't have made the print before 12th August, 1925. That was the day Mitcham Fair opened at its new site on Three Kings Piece. It was less Broad's job to imagine than to record and he would have been there to see for himself. He had already made a print of Mitcham Fair at its old site in the town in about 1922 and, if nothing else, the move to a new site offered Broad the chance to tackle the subject again. This second print shows exactly what kind of person he was. It is a considerable improvement on the earlier work. Some time in 1922, he hit his stride and by the December of 1925 all of the prints were for sale at his one-man show at the Macrae Gallery on Fulham Road in London. This was something unusual in itself. A Sussex Farm also found its way to the Seventh International Printmakers Exhibition at the Los Angelese Museum the following spring. But the Mitcham Fair print is as typical of Broad as you can get. Even so, the two prints hang together in my mind.
The image on my previous post is probably more faithful, but the one you see here comes from Broad's own collection, and may well be the exhibition copy he used at the Macrae. (It's 5/150). I don't care whether Edward Loxton Knight's print Goose Fair, Nottingham, which came up on ebay recently, is more obviously attractive and displays more flair, I think Broad is better. It is more interesting and more skilled. Broad sits firmly on his stool inside the craft tradition. He spent some of his spare time poking around the tidal gravel banks along the river Thames, collecting worked flint tools. That was the kind of craft he liked - the durable. The same went for his collection of old forged iron. Broad's work is also durable. The New Fair, Mitcham also pre-dates the Loxton Knight by three years and it's certainly interesting that Knight used much the same organisation for his print. With Broad it is: foreground, crowd, striped tents, then sky while Knight has: foreground, fair, suburb, sky. The use of the shapes of trees and smoke to link the areas is striking in Knight's woodcut but what Broad uses to divide up and also connect the picture vertically is original and more difficult. I mean those red and white posts of his.
If Knight loaned Broad's idea, then Broad I would think was in hock to a great master he would have seen in the National Gallery - take a look at Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano. Why the striped posts were there in his print, I still have no idea. I mean, I don't know what purpriose they had in reality. He also uses them in Mitcham Fair and he obviously likes them alot. They attract him but he also makes use of them, they are jusrt as much found-objects as the flint axeheads. Knight ends up, as he he so often does, looking like a maker of patterns. Broad's approach is more vigorous and more objective, not perhaps qualities we necessarily associate with colour woodcut. But the striped posts are useful in another way. From very early on, including in the first Mitcham Fair woodcut, Broad had a strong liking for red and bright pinks. Of all his work, though, The New Fair, Mitcham is his most subtle effort with dark red. In the print below, he rather overdoes it.
But for Kenneth Broad, August arrives in two different ways. Completely unlike A Sussex Farm, the colour scheme for the fairground is largely unrealistic. That first print does without a keyblock and so softens everything to gain the effect of an early summer morning. In the second print, only the clothes tell you it is August; the sky says it's November. Taking two such complementary but very different approaches to the same time of year shows just how modern Broad was in his approach. In Sussex, he expresses summer, but at Mitcham it is analysed.
The architect in him is never far away but in the second Mitcham print, it is very close. The intensity of the use of the keyblock for the crowd make all the people interlock like the structures that his own bees made. (He had eight hives at his house in Rotherfield). And he's interested in some of the most temporary structures people make for themselves. He thinks outside the box. The tents and vans are fairly obvious. More thoughtful and waggish is the pram the young nanny has left behind her. The curves carefully echo the roofing to the traction engine.
I couldn't resist adding this photo taken by the colour woodcut artist, Mercie Lack, of the archaeologists at work on the Sutton Hoo burial site in the 1930s. Like Broad, Lack and her partner were also keen amateur archaeologists as well as exprimenters with early colour print photography. But she appproaches her subject here with as much of a surveyor's eye as Broad does in The New Fair, Mitcham. He cheerfully adapts the stripey posts to make giant surveyors poles out of them, no an obvious humourist, but as with many things in Broad, humour is there if you look. The only reason artists like Broad remain under-rated and misunderstood is because no one knows their work. Prints lie in boxes in print rooms. Broad, for better or for worse, also threw in his lot with the colour woodcut crowd. As an artist, he may have seen himself as a watercolourist, first and foremost, but his prints provide his most original contribution and in the end he has found himself keeping company with everyone from William Giles to John Hall Thorpe. It limits the way we look at him and for someone as much an individual as Kenneth Broad, it just means that we miss out in the end.
But there is still more. Overlooking the whole human project at Mitcham, we also find Broad the botanist at work. The feathery tree taking up a quarter of the image is one of the black poplars that grow on the common. I'm not sure whether it is a native or hybrid black poplar, but I assume that Broad knew what it was. He was too well-informed not to. There are also trees on The Forest at Nottingham but they are plane, lime and oak and look nothing at all like the elegant creatures in Knight's work. Broad is more subtle by far. In describing, he also suggests. The poetry, like the axeheads, is half-buried.
I want to add that informativeness runs in the Broad family because I am deeply grateful for all the help and information given me by the artist's grandson, David Broad. Without him and his sister, Nicola, there would be almost nothing.