PERCY Monkman often recalled the time he was painting in Bronte country and a small boy asked him, “What are you doing it for?”

It was a question Percy had never considered. He decided that he painted was because “it is an enjoyable hobby, it is creative and one of the finest forms of relaxation one can find”.

He went on to declare that the value of painting comes from heightened observation, seeing subjects everywhere - including “beauty in Bradford”.

“Many people have said disparaging things about Bradford, its grim buildings, sooty atmosphere, its lack of colour. Personally, after a lifetime of observing and looking for colour and pattern, I find it more and more fascinating from a painting point of view,” Percy told an audience during one of his many talks on painting, from the 1950s to the late 1970s.

By day Percy Monkman was a bank clerk, working at the same Bradford bank for 40 years, and in his spare time he trod the boards at local theatres. He was a well known actor and comic, having started out in First World War concert parties, and he was centre stage at Bradford Playhouse for more than 20 years.

Equal to his passion for theatre was his passion for watercolour painting. Percy was a gifted self-taught artist, reveals a delightful memoir of his colourful life, featured in a series of T&A articles this year. Written by his grandson, Martin Greenwood, Percy Monkman: An Extraordinary Bradfordian explores Percy’s early experiences of painting, his portfolio, commissions, painting at work and in retirement. and his involvement with Bradford Arts Club, which he joined in 1924 and remained a member until he died in 1986, aged 93.

“Percy’s start as a painter was, to say the least, inauspicious,” writes Martin. “As he often said, ‘Art in my schooldays was a non-event and art teaching was pathetic’.”

Addressing a speech day at a local secondary school in 1962, Percy recalled: ‘The art we were taught was as primitive as could be. All I remember was being given a brush like a worn-out toothbrush and taught what I can only describe as blob painting. So I didn’t pick up a lot about art at school. But I must have got the germ from somewhere, because I practised and learnt all I could from every possible source’.

He started drawing in his teens, at chapel, sketching ministers. After the 1914-18 war Percy’s demobilisation was deferred and, with time on his hands, in early 1919, he did a couple of pen and ink drawings of Cambrai town centre, which later appeared in the Bradford Spring Exhibition of 1924. The first drawing is a busy market scene, with intricate detail of people bustling around. The second one is of a church and small houses, damaged by war. Both drawings, of the same town but very different scenes, were drawn with great skill on small sheets of paper and display a natural talent. They were the start of a portfolio of well over 2,000 paintings and drawings.

Many of Percy’s paintings capture scenes in Bradford, and on holidays to the east coast and the Dales. In 1920 he painted his first outdoor work at Heaton woods. In the 1930s, having attended evening classes to develop his skills, he started to exhibit with the newly-formed Yorkshire Group of Artists. He won first prize from 1935-38 at the Westminster Bank’s annual art exhibition in London.

After the Second World War he painted more holiday scenes, including the North Yorkshire Moors and Lake District, but it was retirement in 1952 that led to Percy’s most prolific output. Most of his portfolio was watercolours, but he also dabbled in oils, gauche and pen and ink. He largely avoided what he called “sit up and beg” tourist traps, and didn’t paint Haworth Parsonage until he was 83. The place he painted most often was Baildon, where he lived in retirement. His regular subjects included Dick Hudson’s pub and Dobrudden Farm.

Percy’s regular commissions included one from Brown Muff & Co in 1964, when it was Bradford’s premier department store, known as the “Harrods of the North”. He was commissioned to do a painting of the store for promotional material, it even ended up on the cover of its restaurant menus.

In 1977, aged 85, Percy was commissioned to reproduce three views of Bradford city centre in the 1950s. With the city extensively rebuilt in the 1960s, Percy went back to paintings he did over 20 years previously.

Percy kept a catalogue of all his paintings, from his first in 1919 to his last. “It reads almost like a diary of his painting life,” writes Martin. “One thing jumps out - his passion to paint.”

Martin recalls his grandfather rising early on family holidays to capture the morning light. In his 80s he was a familiar sight in Baildon, with his sketch book and paints

Percy placed great value in being among other artists, particularly at Bradford Arts Club, of which he was chairman, president and honorary life member. In 1979 he wrote about the “spirit of comradeship”...”that was probably the club’s greatest asset”.

* Percy Monkman: An Extraordinary Bradfordian, PlashMill Press, £24.49.