Born in Brighton, Brian Crouch was around twenty-seven when he painted this robustly structured self-portrait. He studied at Brighton College of Art and then at the Royal Academy Schools, where he made this picture in 1956. In a letter, written three years later to Ruth Borchard, he noted, ‘I have an early self-portrait which I would be very pleased to let you have for 15 guineas… It is a straightforward, senior late-student work’. The picture describes a young man of a resolute and highly sensitive nature – but one who is evidently keen not to give too much away. The head appears virtually to be modelled out of spontaneous broad patches of colour. The dramatic, sculpted effect is partly created through the use of bold tonal contrasts. The pale pinkish-brown swathe on the side of his nose contrasts firmly with the long brown calligraphic stroke extending from the bridge of his nose down to the retroussé tip (and then another shorter similar stroke beneath the nostrils). The hair is a nice dirty-blond, literally so with its admixture of yellow, black, orange, green, even a bit of blue.
Ruth Borchard would have encountered Crouch’s work in Jack Beddington’s 1957 book, Young Artists of Promise, which reproduced two of his oil paintings (including an austere, Kitchen Sink-style rendition of domestic implements and a Tate & Lyle sugar packet on a bare table). She would also have seen his works in the annual Young Contemporaries show, at the Grabowski Gallery and at the AIA, (‘Artists International Association’) – all in London.
In 2006, Crouch wrote of his paintings, constructions and assemblages made in and around his home/studio in the Wye Valley:
‘I live and work in a place where I am immersed in a rich and varied landscape surrounding house and studio. Much of my work is based on the experience of these things expressed through the processes of painting…. I have always related to the ideas, formal strengths and expressiveness of good abstract art and for a number of years my paintings were completely abstract, often geometry-based…. However, living where I do, I… draw upon the vitality of imagery to be found through natural forms and patterns of growth, aiming at some kind of synthesis or at least a meeting, like two halves of an equation