Bernard Kay was born in 1927 and raised in Southport, Lancashire where his father owned a bicycle shop. From an early age he knew that he wanted to be an artist and his family supported his ambition.
Kay’s student days began at the Liverpool School of Art in 1943 and in 1948 he moved to London and studied at the Royal Academy School where he spent his first year studying drawing. In the early ‘50s he taught drawing and after winning a scholarship to study in Paris in 1954 he met and mixed with many of the famous artists of the Paris school and, later that year, travelled to Vallauris in the south of France where he met Picasso’s model and muse, Sylvette David, who introduced him to the circle of artists around Picasso. Lydia Corbett, Picasso’s “ponytail model” was a lifelong friend.
Back in Paris, Kay studied the process of aquatint etching at the studio of pioneering artist Johnny Friedlaender and during the same period travelled throughout the French countryside and made drawings that would form the basis for his later architectural landscape paintings.
On returning to England Kay worked for London picture framers, Robert Savage, and in 1955 he exhibited at the Archer Gallery in London, the Gallerie La Hune in Paris, his work also featuring in the Daily Express Young Artists Exhibition. His return to London also resulted in further shows at the Obelisk Gallery, followed by an exhibition mounted by another leading gallery, Roland, Browse & Delbanco, who would go on to represent him for some years. Further shows were held in tandem with Norman Adams and Philip Sutton.
During his years in London he was part of the “London Scene” and he counted David Hockney and Nicky Clarke amongst his friends. He focus turned to large oils in a contemporary abstract expressionist style, before later returning to landscape paintings, working in a structured style using an earthy, muted palette.
Following teaching posts at the Byam Shaw School of Art Bernard moved to Oundle in Northamptonshire in 1984, ostensibly to “retire” to a 16th-century house that was chosen to house his large furniture and collection of artefacts. He continued to paint, working on portraits of friends and a series of large canvases of the town.
Examples of Kay’s work are now in municipal collections throughout the U.K., including the government art collection, and private collections throughout the world. Following his death in May, 2021 a highly successful studio sale of his work was held at Mallams in Oxford.
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