Peter László Peri

Mr Collins from the A.R.P.


Not on display

Peter László Peri 1899–1967
Object: 675 × 680 × 400 mm
Purchased 1988

Display caption

Hungarian born Peri arrived in London in 1936 as a refugee from Nazi Germany. He became a key member of the Artists International Association the anti-fascist artists' movement, and practiced a social realist style of art. In the 1930s he pioneered the use of concrete, a cheap, durable, colourable medium suitable for public sculpture. This is a major example of a number of cement figures cast between the mid-1930s and 1940s. Peri worked with Collins in the Air-Raid Rescue service and clearly conveys his empathy with this unpretentious, ordinary man. He wrote of such a character, 'however common his work, he also is entitled to become the subject of a sculptor, since he is a member of our society'.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T05036 Mr Collins from the A.R.P. 1940

Coloured cement and concrete 675 × 680 × 400 (26 1/2 × 26 3/4 × 15 3/4)
Inscribed ‘Peri’ b.r. of base
Purchased from the artist's estate through John Lloyd (Grant-in-Aid) 1988
Exh: Peter Peri, Gardner Centre for the Arts, University of Sussex, Brighton, May–June 1973 (7, as ‘Driver Harris’); The Story of the AIA: Artists International Association 1933–1953, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, April–May 1983, Cartwright Hall, Bradford, July–Sept. 1983, Midland Group, Nottingham, Oct.–Nov. 1983, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, Nov.1983–Jan.1984, Fruit Market Gallery, Edinburgh, Jan.–Feb. 1984, Camden Arts Centre, March–April 1984 (201, as ‘Portrait Head of Mr Collins, ARP Driver’, repr. p.61)
Lit: ‘Two Peris for Tate’, The Friend, vol.146, no.4, 29 Jan. 1988, p.106; John Lloyd, ‘Peter Peri Wins Tate Gallery Approval’, Reactor (house journal of Scott Bader Co. Ltd), March 1988, p.10, repr.; Helga Laszlo, ‘The Realistic Sculpture of Laszlo Peter Peri’, unpublished BA, thesis, University of Budapest 1990, p.85, repr. pl.73; Jonathan Blond, ‘Introduction’, Peter Peri 1899–1967: Sculpture and Drawings, exh. cat., Blond Fine Art 1993, [p.2]. Also repr: The Friend, vol.146, no.13, 1 April 1988, front cover

‘Mr Collins from the A.R.P.’ is a coloured cement portrait bust mounted on a concrete base. It is larger than life-size and represents Mr Collins with his head turned to the right, looking downwards. The colour is naturalistic - the hair, eyebrows, eyeballs and moustache are black and the skin is flesh-coloured. The sitter is wearing a dark blue-grey jacket with light grey shading on the V-necked collar and on the right shoulder. The concrete base is sand-coloured.

T05036 was made in 1940 at Peri's studio at 28b Camden Street. It is one of a series of large portrait busts and heads that Peri executed between the mid-1930s and the late 1940s. Photographs in the Peri Estate, Brighton, indicate that Peri made at least twenty-six such works. The title of T05036 has been established by reference to a photograph of the work in the Peri Estate. A signed inscription on the back of the photograph, which is in Peri's hand, provides the title, medium and date of the bust. However, when T05036 was first acquired by the Tate, it was known by the title ‘Mr Collins, A.R.P. Driver’.

Peri executed three black ink sketches on paper of Mr Collins (Hove Museum and Art Gallery). These drawings suggest that Peri intended the bust to be a naturalistic likeness of the sitter. The three studies are of Collins's head each drawn from a different angle: no.R21 shows the back of the sitter's head and neck; no.R22 depicts the left profile; and no.R1 represents Mr Collins's right profile, his neck and the V-neck collared-jacket. In all the drawings Collins is looking straight ahead into the distance. Probably based on these studies, Peri began work on the sculpture by constructing a steel wire framework. He would then have applied layers of coloured cement to build up the mass of the bust, as was his working practice (for a full description of Peri's technique and use of coloured cement, see entry on T05035).

During the war years Peri was employed in the Civil Defence Services in the Metropolitan Borough of Saint Pancras. In 1937 the Air Raid Precautions Act had imposed A.R.P. duties on local authorities. The Enrolment form of the Air Raid Precautions Department in the Metropolitan Borough of Saint Pancras lists seven possible duties for men and youths: Air Raid Wardens; First Aid Parties; First Aid Posts; Rescue and Demolition Parties; Report Centres and Communications; miscellaneous duties; Drivers for Wardens posts. In connection with his A.R.P. duties Peri joined the Transport and General Workers Union on 24 August 1940, as his union card (Peri Estate) shows. According to the catalogues of the Civil Defence Artists exhibitions held at the Cooling Galleries between 1941 and 1944, it is apparent that Peri was active in a number of different divisions of the St Pancras Air Raid Precaution scheme, namely the stretcher Party in 1941, light rescue in 1942, as a Warden in 1943 and in Rescue in 1944. A certificate in the Peri Estate records that on 16 February 1943 he qualified as a local instructor of Stretcher Party personnel for Saint Pancras, Air Raid Precautions. Peri presumably met Collins through his work with the A.R.P., though it has not been possible to identify him further or to establish how well Peri knew him.

In 1940, the year Peri made the bust of Collins, London saw the first daylight air raid, as well as the start of the Blitz. Mary Peri, Peri's second wife, remembered that Peri ‘joined the rescue service in Camden Town and made many drawings of the scenes he experienced. He got on very well with the other rescue workers and in a way I think he enjoyed that strange, rather communal life’ (Peter Peri 1899–1967, exh. cat., The Minories, Colchester 1970, [p.12]). Peri was especially interested in recording the daily work of colleagues, friends and neighbours. The artist wrote:

I have drawn my neighbour's attention to another neighbour, whom he has seen a thousand times, but to whom he never gave a second thought. I have shown that however insignificant his work, he too is important. He is also entitled to become the subject of an artist's work. I have recognised that he too is a useful member of our society, his work is also essential.

(Peri, manuscript, 1958, Peri Estate, Brighton quoted in Laszlo 1990, supplement 2, p.4)

Diana Condell of the Department of Exhibits and Firearms at the Imperial War Museum described the uniform worn by Mr Collins in a letter to the compiler dated 29 November 1989:

Insofar as it's possible to identity the type of clothing, I would say it is the top part or ‘blouse’ of a standard issue ARP, or Civil Defence uniform of the period. By 1942 [T05036 was originally thought to be dated 1942] the basic uniform consisted of a navy blue (in effect black) ‘battledress’ wool serge blouse, worn without collar and tie; navy blue wool serge trousers, and with black leather ankle boots or black shoes. In the normal course of events the issue pattern steel helmet was worn, usually finished in black paint, with the function of the wearer indicated by a single letter or combination of letters, painted in white. For example ‘A’ indicated Ambulance Driver, ‘R’ the Heavy Rescue Squads and ‘W’ Wardens. I am not aware of any designation as such for a drïver, so it's perfectly possible that driving was a secondary line insofar as ‘Mr Collins’ was concerned.

During this period Peri executed a number of other large-scale coloured cement and concrete portrait busts. Notable examples include: ‘Girl in Red’, undated (repr. Fantastic Paintings & Drawings by Stella Snead: Sculpture in Concrete by L. Peri, exh. cat., Arcade Gallery 1946, [p.3]), which depicts a woman with her head turned to the right and looking up to the sky; ‘A Distinguished Head’, undated (repr. Peter Peri 1899–1967: A Retrospective Exhibition of Sculpture, Prints and Drawings, exh. cat., Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery 1991, p.19), an uncoloured concrete bust of a man, truncated just below the shoulders; ‘Stalin I’, 1942 and ‘Stalin II’, 1942–4 (photographs in Peri Estate), which are two larger coloured cement portrait busts of Stalin.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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