Like the American artists Charles Sheeler and Richard Estes, Brendan Neiland is primarily interested in buildings, but has developed a highly distinctive style, where he depicts the reflections on glass windows of large corporate constructions. Estes’ are always instantly recognisable as such, but Neiland revels in the abstract patterning.
Born in Lichfield, 1941, Neiland has long been fascinated by architecture, and his favourite artist is Fernand Léger. Léger started out in an architect’s office, and his interest in construction inspired the grid-like compositions for which he has found much fame. His balance of tight black lines and softer forms of figures, as demonstrated in The Constructors, finds a modern manifestation in Neiland’s work. For example, Neiland skilfully harmonises the rippling and rhythmic reflections on glass with the rigid, steel structures. “So much of the city is observed through reflection”, Neiland has said. Upon walking in London one Sunday morning, he was especially drawn to Lloyd’s Insurance Building, of which he has made a number of works, in various media from acrylic on canvas to silkscreen prints. In a series of clever compositions, Neiland depicts a reflected view of the building, a delicate web of fascinating contrasts of colour, shape and material. In another glass reflection, entitled Zither, a web of curved black lines recall the Cold Mountain paintings of Brice Marden. While the American wished to capture the profound experience one might have when looking at a mountain, Neiland achieves a similar feeling of sublimity via manmade structures. In other works, Neiland captures the reflections of buildings on water.
More recently, Neiland has turned his attention to street signs and advertisements. This interest recalls the 1970s paintings of Robert Cottingham. However, while the American was drawn to the signage on crumbling, soon-to-be-demolished buildings, the pulsating neon signs painted by Neiland are vital and very much of the here and now. These vibrant works mark a radical departure from the monochrome palette of marble, concrete and aluminium buildings.
Over a long and successful career spanning five decades, Neiland has produced many private and public commissions around the world, including for Rolls-Royce, English Heritage, Gatwick Express and the National Bank of Dubai. He won the Scottish Advertising & Design Award for Best Use of Illustration in an Advertisement for the Highland Collection (1996), and the working stencils and sketches made in preparation for the painting, Lloyd's, commissioned by Jardines, were displayed at the Tate Gallery in 1988. He received the John Minton Scholarship in 1969, and was a prize-winner at John Moores Liverpool Exhibition XI in 1978. Neiland is also a respected printmaker, having featured in New British Printmakers at Brooklyn Museum, in 1974, and in numerous international biennales from 1970 onwards. Elected an RA in 1992, Neiland served as Keeper of the Schools from 1998 to 2004. His work is held in all of the major UK public collections as well as around the world.