Indian Prime Minister Modi's city Varanasi comes to Britain in paint thanks to four English artists working as a group

Ken Howard · Patrick Cullen · Peter Brown · Neale Worley

Mark Twain wrote of Varanasi: "It is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend..."

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This year four British artists took themselves off as a group to Varanasi in India to capture the light, heat, people, buildings and landscapes and something of the way in which India seduces the visitor. The result is a stunning contemporary look at this most fascinating of Indian cities which is on view as an exhibition in London this October alongside a TV documentary that has also been made of their trip.

The stunningly vibrant works of Ken Howard, Patrick Cullen, Peter Brown and Neale Worley, were mostly done while painting en plein air. The result proves afresh that India captivates. Travelling together with their paints and easels the four artist friends worked in Varanasi exclusively and the results of the trip will be on show from Oct 14th to Nov 7th at Indar Pasricha Fine Arts, 22 Connaught St, London W2 AF

The four artists chose Varanasi as their subject as it is among the world's oldest continually inhabited cities. After visiting this fabled city American author Mark Twain wrote: "It is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together." In the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries Varanasi was considered by Europeans to be almost an abomination, misunderstood by them and a cultural threat, it is now seen as a city which is the accumulation of millennia of religious culture, a culture that is more understood.

Curator and gallery owner, Indar Pasricha, says of this exhibition: "These four modern artistic Musketeers have been going to India as a group for years, bringing back images of the people, the ghats, the grand landscapes, the cities, and this year they have captured Varanasi in paint."

Pasricha, who left India for Britain when he was seven years old says the works have reintroduced him to his motherland. "The work is very British yet the spirit of India is so evident in the paint and every brushstroke. You have Patrick Cullen's colour, capturing the extraordinary kaleidoscopic palette of India; Ken Howard's use of light and reflection; Peter Brown's tangible sense of place, the dust, the mayhem - you can almost smell the street; and Neale Worley's portraits which capture the grace and poise that is such a striking feature of so many Indians."

This contemporary British tribute to India is led by a fantastic image of burning ghats on the Ganges river at dusk by Patrick Cullen which won a prize at this year's Lynn Painter Stainers competition. The picture is alive despite the fact that it illustrates bodies being consumed in flame. Cullen says: "For us India is all about light and colour and the incredible variety of subjects. It's about the energy and the movement wherever you look. And above all it's the sense of life flowing through everything, even through death. I was trying to capture the Hindu belief in death being just a part of the great continuous cycle of life. The fire that illuminates the darkening scene burns more brightly as the daylight fades. The fire is the fire of life. It burns continuously throughout every night and on into the dawn of each new day. And this has been going on for millenia."

There is something anachronistic in the idea of four artists taking off for India together to paint in company, but the idea of a school of artists is as old as time. The men agree that the work of the others influences and inspires their own distinctive imagery. And in the evening, after a day spent painting they retire to their hostelry for dinner and a discussion of the day's work, its trials and tribulations and triumphs.

Ken Howard (b. 1932) OBE, RA, is perhaps the best known of the three. He studied at Hornsey School of Art from 1949 to 1953, then completed his National Service with the Royal Marines before returning to study at the Royal College of Art from 1955 to 1958. He went on to win a British Council Scholarship to Florence from 1958 to 1959. Howard's first solo show was held at the Plymouth Art Centre in 1955. He was given a retrospective in 1972 at the Plymouth City Art Gallery and in 1973 and 1979 was appointed by the Imperial War Museum as official artist in Northern Ireland. He also worked with the British Army in Germany, Cyprus, Oman, Hong Kong, Nepal, Norway, Canada, Belize and Brunei from 1973 to 1982. He was elected a member of the New English Art Club in 1962, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1966, the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1979, the Royal West of England Academy 1981, Honorary Member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1988, Royal Academician in 1991 and President of the New English Art Club in 1998. Among his numerous awards are First Prize in the Lord Mayor's Art Award in 1966, a Prize Winner in the John Moores Exhibition, Liverpool in 1978, first prize in the Hunting Group Awards and the Critics Prize at Sparkasse Karlsruhe in 1985.

Ken Howard lives and works in London. His work hangs in the National Army Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Guildhall Art Gallery and the Ulster Museum. Ken Howard is a life long plein air artist and his remarkable commitment to this practice is evidenced supremely by his travelling at the age of 82 to paint in India. He's been traveling to India with Patrick and Peter every year for the past 4 years, painting in the streets and markets which as any one who's been to India knows, is very full on. It's really a younger man's game but Ken is intrepid. And he enjoys the company of younger spirits who share his enthusiasm for painting on location.

Patrick Cullen, the second in the quartet of friends, has painted in Rajasthan, Dehli and Amritsar. He was awarded the Chelsea Art Society Painting Prize in 2012 and elected to the Society. A member of the NEAC he has won ten other prizes for his work. Describing what it's like painting in India, Patrick says: "I am sometimes asked how, given the levels of poverty and corruption and the evils of the caste system, I can paint pictures that celebrate the light and colour and the sheer energy of this extraordinary country that is India. My answer is "that what is remarkable about India is that despite all of the above, there is an amazingly optimistic embracing of life even with all of its repetition and drudgery. Despite the poverty it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the people and their chaotic urban environment. The strong sunlight that invariably bounces off these surfaces and through the beautifully coloured saris of the Indian women is a wonderful tonic after the grey concrete and steel of our own urban environment. So I made it my task to respond to this kaleidoscopic feast and to make paintings that capture something of it, not least because I fear it will not be with us forever."

Brown is Bath based, an all-weather painter of street scenes and city landscapes. Known for working directly from his usually urban subject, he is more affectionately referred to as 'Pete the Street'. He has previously painted in India, with Ken and Patrick. Also a member of the NEAC he has won over a dozen prizes for his work. A series of Peter's London paintings will be at the Royal Automobile Club, Pall Mall (3rd April - 29th May). 

Neale Worley was the author of the TV documentary made on location in Varanasi while the other three were painting, which will be premiered at the exhibition. Neale too has won awards for his work, is a member of the NEAC and has 11 paintings in the Prince of Wales' collection.