Catherine Brennand

Painter passionate about buildings
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The Independent Online

Catherine Louise Bateman, artist: born Woking, Surrey 11 October 1961; married 1998 Mark Brennand (two sons); died Wolverhampton 1 May 2006.

There are some artists who find inspiration and motivation for their work in a variety of sources and themes, and there are others for whom there need only be one. Catherine Brennand's passion was buildings. "Focusing on an individual subject isn't necessarily a bad thing," she said:

I cannot imagine ever becoming bored with painting buildings. There are so many architectural styles and every place has its own flavour. Also, as I am particularly interested in the use of light and shadows, the building surface is constantly changing. A good light can make the most mundane of buildings look exciting.

Brennand's work was characterised by its feeling for texture, colour (which was strong, often hot) and composition - she saw how an interesting doorway or a balcony, out of context, could look almost abstract. But perhaps the most noticeable quality of her work is its sense of atmosphere. In particular she was entranced by shop façades. She did several series including a sequence of Jermyn Street shops in the West End of London. These pictures have a peculiar magic as the reflections in the windows and the glowing lights inside reveal an Aladdin's cave of fine clothes, antique furnishings, jewellery and choice foods.

She was born Catherine Bateman in Woking, Surrey, in 1961. Her father, John Bateman, was a journalist with Associated Newspapers and her mother a teacher. When she was still a child her family moved to east Kent and she later attended Dover Grammar School for Girls. On leaving school she went to the Bishop Otter College in Chichester to train as a teacher but after three years - and to her parents' alarm - she decided that was the wrong choice for her. She subsequently graduated with a degree in Art and Design from University College, Chichester.

She took a job as a technical and graphic artist with Francis Concrete, a manufacturer of specialist blocks for Ford Airfield, near Chichester. Bateman found that working in the construction industry awakened in her an interest in architecture and she began to paint buildings. Subsequently the firm was taken over and she moved with her job to Wolverhampton.

One night at a Hallowe'en party she met Mark Brennand, whom she would later marry. Encouraged by him she began to paint regularly and from 1996 worked full-time as an artist. She received many and varied commissions which included work for Ivory Gate plc (the Bafta Building), Tarmac, Crown Estates, Staffordshire County Council, Wiltons Restaurant and the New West End Synagogue in London, and the brewery Eldridge, Pope & Co.

In 1997 she participated in a tour of Israel sponsored jointly by the Linda Blackstone Gallery and the Jewish National Fund for an exhibition the following year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel. The modern buildings along the sea-front of Tel Aviv particularly caught her imagination. Although most of the buildings she painted in Israel were actually white or pale grey, when she recreated them she found inspiration in the colours of the Negev Desert.

She was also drawn to the buildings of Italy, the south of France and the east coast of the United States. The texture of different materials and surfaces was an important element in her work: the peeling plaster and deep shadows of southern Europe or, in the New England states, the timber cladding and Georgian proportions. Frequently ideas came from the upper storeys of buildings. "Street level is often very ordinary, so I tend to look up quite a lot."

By preference, Brennand worked in watercolour which she enjoyed for its unpredictability and versatility: the medium could stand on its own or be combined with all sorts of other media and techniques. Once back in her studio the photographs she took and sketches she made on site were turned into underlying drawings for her paintings which might be constructed from up to 15 thin layers of superimposed washes of colour.

She said that, whereas the choice of colour was mostly a deliberate and carefully thought-out process, the involvement of textures was largely intuitive. A shelf in front of her working table held all sorts of things used in her work: spray-diffusers, a toothbrush, rollers, screwed-up tissue paper, wax crayons and candles (which she used like a batik artist), very fine Japanese papers for glueing onto the paper. Among the artists who influenced her work she named John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Patrick Heron and Mark Rothko.

In 1991 Brennand was awarded the Winsor and Newton Young Painters in Watercolour Award at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours (the RI). The following year she received the Frank Herring Award for the best painting of an architectural subject, after which she became a full member of the institute and in 2001 a member of its council. Her other awards included, in 2005, the Matt Bruce Memorial Prize "for the most outstanding use of light and colour in watercolours".

A prolific artist, she exhibited widely: at the Llewellyn Alexander and Linda Blackstone Galleries in London, the Barnt Green Gallery in Worcester and the Shell House Gallery in Herefordshire, as well as at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol and elsewhere.

Catherine Brennand was an enthusiast for life in all manner of ways. She read avidly, loved letter-writing, cooking, Radio 4, fell-walking in the Lake District, music, London, architecture, the cinema, buying clothes, good food and conversation.

In March last year she visited Malta, where she took about 750 photographs. Despite receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer, she spent the summer preparing 40 works for her first one-woman show, which took place in Malta earlier this year. She had remained as much an optimist in her illness as she had been in her work. "Painting," she said, "should be good fun."

Simon Fenwick

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