Helen Bradley (1900-1979) was born in Lees, on the outskirts of Oldham. In her teenage years Bradley had attended the Oldham School of Art, specializing in embroidery and jewellery. At the start of the First World War, Bradley had to leave school to help her father in the family business. In 1926 she met Tom Bradley, a textile designer, and the two married and went on to have two children. Despite her early interest in art, it was not until Bradley was sixty-five that she took up painting scenes of her childhood to show her grandchildren what life was like when she was a child. The artist transmuted her childhood memories in the everyday life of ordinary Lancashire mill folk into anecdotal art.
Characterized by the frank and inhibited outlook of a young child, her bright, teeming pictures and her own delightful narrative, memorably reflect that gentle period. Primitive in style, idyllic in mood, Helen Bradley's pictures are as accomplished as they are imaginative. L. S. Lowry has said “Helen Bradley is unique.” Her works touch the hearts of those young and old. Not only did Bradley paint with her brushes, but also in words. Her paintings are combined with stories brimming with sardonic humour that brings to life the age that she lived and reveals a rare appreciation of humanity. Her paintings have a curiously cinematic effect – edited events, freeze framed, staged in such a manner that the story is obvious, often emotive, but somehow maintaining directness and objectivity.
The stories, both painted and prose, tell of the everyday affairs of the Bradley’s family and friends. Many characters recur frequently, such as Miss Carter (who is always depicted in pink), Mr Taylor (the Bank Manager), the aunts, grandma, brother George, the dogs Gyp and Barney and Willie Murgatroyd. Bradley’s narrative paintings are abundant with characters and captivating details painted in a flat decorative style without roundness or shadows, an influence of early Persian and Moghul painters. Her technique is entirely her own, and derives little from traditional methods. Bradley applied the colour for the skies and backgrounds of her compositions loosely with the palm of her hand, then intricate details, such as tree branches or brickwork and stones, were scraped away with the blunt end of a paint brush before constructing the detailed figure work by brush.
Many of Bradley’s paintings are distinctive for their warmth of colour, particularly in the skies and in her depiction of sunlight illuminating rows of brick houses and cotton mills. Bradley’s work gained a tremendous following and she quickly became one of Britain’s best known and loved artists. In 1971 “And Miss Carter Wore Pink”, a book containing paintings and tales by Helen Bradley was published and was an immediate success, followed by “Miss Carter Came With Us” in 1973. Helen Bradley’s first London exhibition was held at W. H. Patterson in 1977, and her second exhibition at the gallery took place in 1979. Bill Patterson became her close friend as well as her agent during these years. In 1979 Helen Bradley was presented with an M.B.E. for her contribution to the arts by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace and she requested that Bill Patterson accompany her on this momentous occasion. Sadly, Helen Bradley died one week before she was to receive her M.B.E.