Robin Brooks was born in the village of Stourton near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire. His parents separated and in the early 1950’s, he and his mother moved to Devon.
This proved to be an unhappy period, but one event was to prove pivotal in shaping his future. In 1956, the film The Battle of the River Plate, a Powell and Pressburger film, was released to much acclaim and nowhere more so than in the South West of England. The story followed the events leading up to the destruction of the German battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee off the coast of Uruguay in 1939.
Two Royal Navy cruisers, HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax together with the HMNZS Achilles, brought the Graf Spee to action on 13th December 1939. HMS Exeter’s heroic part made an enormous impression on the 13 year old and he began drawing and painting the ship. This interest in the ship was to become a lifelong passion and though he could not have known it then, it was to be a case of a ship changing the course of his life.
After an unsettled childhood, he left school at 15 without any qualifications and little sense of direction. He embarked on various occupations before becoming a gamekeeper on the Earl of Devon’s Powderham Estate near Exeter.
In this relatively settled period, he continued to develop what had been a childhood interest in aviation, naval history, ships and the sea. All this time, he sketched the things that interested him and began to experiment with watercolour. His mother was an unfailing encouragement in those early artistic efforts and it was at this time that John Tremlett, the Earl of Devon’s assistant Land Agent, who later became Sotheby’s representative in Devon and Cornwall, recognising Robin’s emerging talent, played a significant role. Writing some 40 years later, he recalled,
“I have known Robin Brooks since he was a young man. At the time, he was employed as a gamekeeper on the Powderham Estate. On a visit to his house, his mother showed me a watercolour drawing of the ‘Cutty Sark’. She had just given him a small box of watercolour paints and this was an early attempt. It was obvious that he had a great natural talent. I encouraged him to continue painting and I am delighted that he followed my advice and has now become one of our pre-eminent marine artists. I am proud to know him as a friend, someone who has risen to the heights he has, by his own unaided effort, with very little advantage at the beginning”.
In October 1966, he sold his first painting through an Exeter picture framer and restorer, the late J.W. Urch. Robin recalls,
“I received a card in the post saying, ‘Cutty Sark sold, please call’. Mr Urch gave me £5.00, which was the price at which he had sold the painting. That fiver was a great thrill as, at the time, I was earning less than that in a week”.
In the following months, many more paintings were sold, not only through the picture framer, but in other galleries and bookshops. By 1967, he received a serious offer to paint full time and with, he believes, some truly amazing luck, he took a huge leap of faith, gave up his secure job as a gamekeeper and rented a remote farmhouse and studio in Devon.
Courtesy of the artist’s website.