SARK AND MERVYN
|The island's stunning scenery was an inspiration
to Mervyn Peake
back in time as Inside Out visits Sark, the smallest of the
Channel Islands and home to writer and artist Mervyn Peake in
Life on Sark goes along at a much slower and gentler
pace than on the mainland.
way to get around is by horse and carriage, tractor or by bike. There
are no cars on the island, giving Sark a tranquil, timeless air.
It's almost as if the island has been frozen in time.
The harbour looks exactly as it was in 1933 when a 22 year old artist
and writer Mervyn Peake arrived at its cliff-edged harbour.
The stunning scenery was to provide an inspiration to
Peake's life, his painting and his writing.
Small is beautiful
Sark is the smallest of the four main Channel Islands,
located about 80 miles south of the English coast.
is the smallest independent feudal state in Europe
Whilst only three miles long, and a mile and a half wide,
the island boasts some of the most picturesque coastlines anywhere in
Inside Out took a step back in time, and went in search
of Peake's Sark.
guide for the trip is Sebastian, Mervyn Peakes eldest son.
spent his childhood on the island just after the Second World War with
his dad, mum, brother and sister.
travelled to Sark in 1933 when his former art teacher Eric Drake invited
him to join an artists' colony.
The naked artist
Mervyn Peake cut an unconventional figure on the conservative
island. One story that has been circulating for the last 60 years is that
Peake used to paint naked on the headlands.
Gormenghast book with Peake's illustrations
It's a rumour recalled by Sark artist Pat Toplis.
"He went about in the noddy... he really did and
he wore a sombrero, just a sombrero," says Pat.
Peake was widely seen as eccentric during his two years
One of his portraits so enraged a local that he was threatened
with a lawsuit.
In another incident Peake punched someone who dubbed his clothes effeminate.
In search of Gormenghast
part of the epic novel Gormenghast whilst on the island, and there's
no doubt that he drew inspiration from the scenery around him.
is now a cult amongst modern audiences
"The island became... very much part of his mythological
landscape," said Peake's confidante Gordon Smith.
Another influence was Peake's landlady, Miss Renouf.
The writer immortalised the white bird that sat on her shoulder as Mr
Chalk in Gormenghast.
The castle in the cult classic also draws from Sark,
being described as "irregular as the coastline of a squall-rent island."
Other locations in Gormenghast can also be found on Sark including
the 'Twin Fingers' where Sark begins and 'the Bluff' narrows.
The artist at work
Peake worked in his own gallery whilst on the island.
The first exhibition held at the gallery was opened by La Dame de Sercq
in August 1933.
drew inspiration from the light, scenery and nature on Sark
One of the local journalists from the Guernsey newspapers
wrote of "'a young man still on the sunny side of 22 whose versatility
and imagination place him in a class of his own."
The reviewer also detected the influence of working on
Sark, adding that "the effect of light brings to his pictures, a
vivid, alive and arresting quality".
In 1934 Peake exhibited with the Sark artists at London's
of the native
Peake moved back to mainland Britain in 1935 after he
was offered a teaching job at the Westminster School of Art.
In London Peake met and married painter Maeve Gilmour.
When war broke out in 1938, Peake became a war artist and one of the first
people to visit the Belsen concentration camp.
drops from the cliffs inspired Peake's dark writing
After the Second World War, Peake returned to Sark, drawing
inspiration from the scenery for his illustrations and writing.
Peake also completed the novel
Titus Alone on the island which was remains a popular classic to
The dark side of the island provided inspiration for
Peake's novels according to his son Sebastian.
"I think the colour of the cliffs for instance -
it's dark, it's black and leads down to stony beaches on many of the north
western parts of the island."
Although Peake spent his last years on the mainland,
there's no doubt that the magical and dramatic island of Sark was a major
influence on his life's work.