Prepare to stand back and be amazed. In his current exhibition at Reading Museum, Ray Atkins portrays Reading undergoing a transformation into a modern post-war town. Massive and dynamic views of Katesgrove as the Inner Distribution Road (IDR) cuts through its industrial heart alongside the Kennet will leave you breathless.
Katesgrove is immediately recognisable by its landmarks; Katesgrove School, St Giles’ Church, Christ Church, the rivers and brick terraces.
Ray Atkins lived and worked in Reading at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, and taught at Reading University department of fine art. The exhibition catalogue describes how he worked during this time:
Working serially, one painting leading to others, new responses to the same place, Ray explores Reading at different times and seasons.
The works were all painted outdoors and are large, in some cases exceptionally large, which made the painting process a very physical one as layers of paint were added to a barely dry surface to build up the final picture.
The exhibition includes works that portray the building of the Butts Centre, Reading gasworks, construction of the IDR and even his own back garden at different seasons of the year.
One special painting is ‘the Bridge and the Baby’ which portrays the Berkeley Avenue / Pell Street bridge over the Kennet. It is not in the John Madejski Art Gallery but on the mezzanine landing outside the Bayeux Tapestry gallery. In his description of this work Ray Atkins said:
Although painted at the iron bridge over the Kennet at the bottom of Pell Street the painting is symbolic… I was a great admirer of Bartok at the time with its tensions and structures, and it seems to me that this painting may be the result of this admiration.
Ray Atkins continues to paint outdoors every day. He now lives in the French Pyrenees and the logistics of getting these large works down the mountains and across the Channel to Reading was no mean feat.
The exhibition at Reading Museum, Blagrave Street, RG1 1QH continues until 7 May 2017. Opening times are 10am to 4pm from Tuesday to Saturday.