'It was the best art training I could have had.'
When he was only 16, Reg knew that he wanted to make a career as a professional artist. His obvious talent prompted the suggestion from his school that he should apply to art college, but his father felt that shoe designing would be a safer and more profitable job. So when he left school, he began an apprenticeship with a local shoe company and attended classes in shoe design at Leicester Technical College on 2 days each week. At the age of 19, however, Reg was called up for National Service. His favourite hobby after art was music and he had played the trumpet with a local dance-band – he now became a trumpeter for the military band of the Leicestershire Regiment, with whom he served in Cyprus and Germany.
During his National Service, Reg spent much of his spare time painting and drawing in watercolour, pen and pencil – portraits of soldiers and fellow bandsmen and various scenes from military life. During a spell of home-leave, he drew this portrait of his father; only 6 weeks later his father died of a heart attack.
'My father died just before the end of my two years, and when I came home, as the eldest son I had to be the family breadwinner, so went back into the shoe trade. I’d always kept up drawing and painting though, and my mother saw an advertisement in the Leicester Mercury for a job in H & N Advertising Agency. I applied, and got the job, because the boss wanted someone who could draw well and quickly, which I could. This was in the early 60s and the agency had loads of work coming in. The boss taught me all he knew about printing, which gave me a great deal of valuable training. From there I moved to Gaytons as a commercial artist – (today I’d be called a graphic designer), in the illustration department. It was a real studio with easels, paints, brushes – not like today when it’s all done with computers – and I learned all sorts of different techniques. It was the best art training I could have had.'*
*Reg Cartwright talking to Joan Stephens from 'The Story Evolves' in Leicestershire and Rutland Life, (October 2009), pp. 119-120, RAC/13
After Gaytons, Cartwright went on to work as Art Director with Gee Advertising. In 1969 he decided to paint in oils for the first time:
'I hadn’t a clue how to use them, but reckoned I could teach myself, so I began on a portrait of my two sons, against a background of the kind of house Ann and I wanted to find – Victorian, near a church, in the country. That painting took me ages.'*
Up until about 1976, Reg painted in the naïve style and this influence is very evident in the foliage and the frontal direct pose of the boys. Reg acknowledged his debt to Henri Rousseau, in whose paintings he ‘felt a poetic, enigmatic quality'**, which he wanted to emulate and which inspired him to embark on his first oil painting. The naïve element in Reg’s early oils was always, however, tempered by his professional graphic design technique and his ability to render objects realistically and in great detail. When asked to name his favourite painting, Reg selected this portrait of his two sons – ‘But in truth, my favourite is always the one I’m going to start on next – and there always is one!'*
*Reg Cartwright talking to Joan Stephens from 'The Story Evolves' in Leicestershire and Rutland Life, (October 2009), pp. 120-121, RAC/13
**Ann Cartwright, To What Extent is Reg Cartwright a Naïve Painter?, p. 7, RAC/16.