OBITUARY:Peter Baer

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The Independent Online
Peter Baer was an artist foremost; then a master printer who enabled other artists to make their best original lithographs; and latterly a teacher of all aspects of printmaking who inspired his students.

His background was from the intellectual German refugee influx in the late 1930s which has so enriched our culture. The Baer family arrived in London from Berlin in 1936, when Peter was 12 years old, and Hermann Baer soon established his well-known antique dealer's shop at 6 Davies Street, Mayfair. I remember it well as a schoolchild for its amazing collection of wrought iron, holy relics, a large bear (the mascot), medieval wooden caskets and a large wooden carving of Christ on the ass in the window. Though the family was Jewish it was a cosmopolitan European culture which gave Hermann Baer his high reputation as a dealer. Before that the family business had been a successful emporium in Berlin selling reproduction furniture.

As happened with so many emigres at the outbreak of the Second World War, the Baers were interned for six months and Peter's naturalisation was postponed until 1948. By that time he was a student at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and was supporting himself by various means, the most singular being as a gas lamp-lighter in the Lisson Grove area where some side streets were still gas-lit. He became an excellent professional draughtsman and photographer as well as devoting himself to listening to Miles Davis records.

In the Sixties he frequently visited Birgit Skiolds's Print Workshop in Charlotte Street, where he made etchings. She introduced Baer to Stanley Jones in 1959 when he and Timothy Simon founded the Curwen Studio at the Curwen Press in Plaistow, east London. Jones remembers: "During the crucial formative years of the Curwen Studio, he helped with its day-to-day running in a caring and competent way. He was very sympathetic in interpreting the work of fellow artists." He worked with a wide variety of artists such as Henry Moore, John Piper and Barbara Hepworth, as well as the less famous.

In the beginning all the editions were hand-printed from stone and zinc plate. Later the studio moved to Midford Place, off Tottenham Court Road, where most of the editioning was done on a 1923 flat-bed lithographic press and Baer's role was happily confined to the most interesting part, that is working with artists and repeatedly proofing the image to realise the artist's intentions. Artists came from all over the world. Some were commissioned by Curwen Prints, some by international print publishers, and some were self-publishers or on fellowships. Many had no previous experience of lithography and needed initiation into what was called chemical printing when it was invented by Alois Senefelder 200 years ago. The technique relies on the antipathy of grease and water, and has its own secrets and tricks; Baer was a master of this difficult medium.

In 1970 Baer started teaching printmaking at Hammersmith School of Art, which was later absorbed into Chelsea College of Art and Design, where he continued to teach until his retirement in 1989. He taught Mark Balakjian who is in his turn now passing on his knowledge to students as well as being a director of Studio Prints, the well-known intaglio editioning studio in London. Balakjian remembers: "He taught without a barrier between himself and the students, taking part in their development as an equal without asserting his own views, always actively participating in resolving their technical problems, always ready to help whenever help was needed and whoever by. For him all students were equal and it was not surprising that often he was affectionately thought of as a friend. Peter's technical knowledge, ideas and enthusiasm were all-inspiring."

In the Fifties Baer showed in the Beaux Arts Gallery in Mayfair, when he was associated with the "Kitchen Sink School" of artists who adopted a realistic style of depicting everyday domestic life. Other artists were John Bratby and Derrick Greaves. Baer's later work, however, changed to something more abstract and colourful. He showed in the Amalgam Gallery in 1986, Agi Katz's Boundary Gallery in 1988, and is represented in the Ben Uri Gallery Collection. After retirement he taught at the Camden Institute and was able to give more time to his own work.

In his painting, he was a colourist verging on expressionism. The recent exhibition of Emil Nolde at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, in east London, drew him again and again. Baer had been reassessing his own north German roots and coming to terms with his own once-rejected Jewishness, and was on the brink of another burst of creativity.

His most productive printmaking was done soon after his second marriage to Iris Collins in 1968. Near his home in north London, he absorbed and transformed the urban landscape into a series of inventive etchings, lithographs and mixed media prints which are, I think, his best work. He used texture derived from metal pressings, wire and other found detritus together with fluid shapes and embossing, describing the curve of a road, a cloud or an allotment, which encapsulate so many residential settlements.

A memorial exhibition will be held at the Ben Uri Gallery.

Rosemary Simmons

Peter Baer, printmaker: born Berlin 28 March 1924; married secondly 1968 Iris Collins (one son); died London 22 March 1996.

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