Invited by the BBC in 1947 to talk about his art, Mervyn Peake gave two ten-minute talks under the general title “As I See It”. The first talk concerned the particular way in which an artist looks at the world of physical objects.
Called the “Artist’s World”, the talk was broadcast on the 26th May 1947. The second talk was given on the 20th September 1947, and the theme was book illustration. A blend of classical and aesthetic romantic doctrine marks the tone and theme of this talk, with its carefully written prose style, and much colourful vocabulary, also rich in detail and amplification. “We do not see with our eyes”. He begins, “we see with our trades. To a farmer a tree is an obstruction in his field, to a carpenter it is the material of his craft, to a child a plaything, while to a poet the tree is a green fountain.” Despite these analogies, an artist should not seek significance in the forms he perceives: to do so would be a distortion of his function. His duty is to “see”, to receive and report what his eye observes”. Regarding the word “it” in the title of the talk “As I See It”, he concludes, “the world of visual experience is a seamless web: the “it” is for me, the visible world around and about me.”
Mervyn Peake on Sark
At work in his own studio, within the Sark Gallery in 1935. At the first exhibition held at the gallery, and opened by La Dame de Sercq in August 1933, local journalists from the Guernsey newspapers were invited, one of whom wrote, “a young man still on the sunny side of 22 whose versatility and imagination place him in a class of his own'... adding that 'the effect of light brings to his pictures, a vivid, alive and arresting quality”.
In April of 1931, he exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and later in that year showed his work with the “Soho Group” of artists at the Regal Restaurant in Soho. He left the Academy in 1932 so that he could move to Sark in the Channel Islands to work with Eric Drake and his “colony” of artists. In 1934 he exhibited with the Sark artists at the Cooling Galleries in London. In 1935 he exhibited at RBA and at the Leger Galleries in London and had a very successful show at the Calmann Gallery in 1938.
In 1943, as a war artist, he was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information to Paint the glassblowers at a Birmingham factory, and in 1945 he was sent to Germany and France. The paintings and poetry he brought back with him record the deep impression made on him by the victims of the war, notably those in Belsen.
During the 1930s and 1940s when he lived in London, he was often commissioned to produce portraits of well-known people and a collection of these drawings is still in the possession of his family.