Romi, the youngest of three girls, was born in 1939. She grew up very happily, riding donkeys in the idyllic surroundings of the vicarage at Ramsbury, Wiltshire, where her father was parish priest and her mother took in refugees. She had deep musical and Anglican roots – her maternal grandfather was Sir Walter Alcock, organist of Salisbury Cathedral, knighted for playing the organ at three coronations.
To get a sense of her spirit, it is important to know that she was expelled from boarding school – twice. The second time, aged 16, she was sent to Penzance where her Uncle Giles, a doctor, had his practice and her sister, Susan, taught music at St Clare’s School for Girls. The girls frequently visited a nearby farm for outdoor recreation. It was here that Romi met and fell for the farmer, Michael Tunstall-Behrens. They married in 1959, eight days after her twentieth birthday and she moved into his grandfather’s house there. Romi soon realised that she would need something to do in this idyllic but remote part of Cornwall and, on returning from a shopping trip to Penzance, she discovered a set of oil paints and a piece of hardboard in her bag and started to paint. Untaught. From here evolved an extraordinary lifetime of painting for the sheer love of it. “I am a painter and I paint every day,” was her mantra. She painted anything and everything – landscapes, animals, people, still lifes, buildings.
Fortunately, Romi also had these advantages – the energy required to seize all of the opportunities offered by her idyllic surroundings; enough studio space to work and store paintings in; a constant flow of new and willing faces dropping in from around the world. She said: “The spontaneity in my work probably comes from a lifetime of juggling painting with children, being married to a farmer, letting holiday cottages, playing the violin and having the good fortune to meet some famous and inspiring artists and musicians among others.”
For anyone new to the paintings of Romi Behrens this comment by art critic, Larry Berryman, makes essential reading:
“In her recent portraits Romi risks everything but the sitter. The brushwork takes hairpin bends, survives dangerous spills of colour and the race quickens with every glimpse of her quarry.
Romi has come a long way since the early landscapes with their slow handling when the stirrings of a sense of colour were still sleepy. There is a grave beauty in those modest pictures of barns and the sea, silent and sullen under grey sky. Some access of confidence has released intuition and attack.
A triple portrait of three teenagers sitting jammed together uses an appropriately restless opposition of orange and jeans blue; recognises the physical self-consciousness of the boy by an equivalent opacity, and allows the two laughing girls to escape in a rush of transparent abbreviation. The line drawings are similarly unguarded and penetrating. A moment’s shorthand achieves the animation of a woman in conversation, or the mysteriously direct gaze of a boy. Much of Romi’s painting is haphazard, never calculating or glib. Its strength is a combination of empathy and decision sometimes catching at the rigour of a Matisse portrait, other times collapsing in the unpicked knitting of a loose Kokoschka.”
Her great friend and fellow artist, the late Jeremy Le Grice, said:
“Romi’s portraits are microcosms of sheer delight. The intensity of her pleasure communicates instantly and the rapidity of her application is hard-pressed to keep up with the fleeting nature of her intuition and insight. However, beyond exuberance Romi brings into her work an essential humility. It is this quality that carried her to ever greater heights as a painter.”
In his Cornishman review in 2010, Frank Ruhrmand wrote:
“The German-born American painter and sculptor Eva Hesse said ‘the best artists are those who have stood alone and who can be separated from whatever movements have been made about them.’ While, as far as is known, no movements have been made about Romi Behrens, she certainly stands alone and in a class of her own. She has been described as being one ‘who paints with conviction and without caution’ and quite cheerfully confesses to being an instinctive painter.”
Romi says, “My work is nearly always created in direct response to a visual scene, there is nothing intellectual about it, although someone once suggested that I probably subconsciously analyse through painting. Colour is the thing that makes me paint. I paint what I see, rather than what is in my mind – more a visual than an ethereal expression.”
A sense of speed and spontaneity is paramount in all that she does. While she works fast and may, indeed, throw caution to the wind, there is nothing careless in her compositions. They exude a well-nigh irresistible sense of exuberance and enthusiasm, but at the same time her approach, style and technique are firmly under control and she applies her paint with a confidence, consideration and total absence of either artifice or affectation that can only be admired and applauded.”
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, 1977
Brunswick Gallery, Judd Street, London, 1980
Arnolfini, Bristol, 1982
Halesworth Gallery, Suffolk, 1982
Margaret Fisher Gallery, Hampstead, London, 1984
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, 1984
Michael Parkin Gallery, Motcombe Street, London, 1990
Rebecca Hossack Gallery, Windmill Street, London, 1991
Cadogan Contemporary, South Kensington, London, 1993
Leighton House, Holland Park, London, 1999
Badcocks Gallery, Newlyn, Penzance, 2005
McKenzie-Wylie Contemporary Art, Hungerford, 2005
Trereife House Gallery, Penzance, 2006
Badcocks Gallery, Newlyn, Penzance, 2007
Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, Cornwall, 2010
The Old Methodist Chapel, Gulval, Penzance, 2010
The Illustration Cupboard, St James’, London, 2011
The Old Methodist Chapel, Gulval, Penzance, 2011
Penwith Gallery, St Ives, 2014
The Silk Mill, Frome, 2015
The Art Factory, Bruton, 2015
The Gallery, Shepherd Market, London, 2016
Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn, Penzance, 2017
Tremenheere Gallery, Penzance, 2018
David Simon Gallery, Castle Cary, October 2020
17 Lansdown Crescent, Bath, November 2020
‘100 Years in Newlyn’, 1995
Falmouth Packet, 2009
Bible of British Taste, 2019
Cornwall Artist Index, 2019
Copyright © 2013 Romi Behrens. All images and texts are copyrighted and owned by Romi Behrens Paintings Limited.
Website design and development by James Mckechnie and Aiden Miller.