Artist's introductory essays to exhibitions 2012-17
HENRIETTA DUBREY EDGAR MODERN SOLO EXHIBITION MARCH 2017
I could have imagined this exhibition as a classic series of paintings loosely based around the nine Greek goddesses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the Arts and Sciences. Or it could have been an exhibition based on one particular person or force who provided me with a source of inspiration, real or imaginary, made up or copied from the page of a magazine. As so often happens with an idea, neither of the scenarios realised themselves or came to obvious fruition.
The idea of my muse, having now painted the show, is a far looser construct; my muse is my inspiration. Inspiration is what drives my creative force. Inspiration is my muse, and it is the searching and waiting, the looking and longing for that magic moment that is crucial in the making of a successful painting.
So the paintings represented in my exhibition are a culmination of the last six or so months, and as such, form an autobiographical sketch of my life as a whole over this period. When painting with an automatist influence, my muse is realised in sometimes strange ways, presenting compositions which when deciphered seem to sum up a situation or emotion that I wouldn't have been able to describe more eloquently in another language.
The act of painting itself decodes the subconscious, like dreams constantly deconstructing and reconstructing, feeding on different influences, working on the plethora of information one is constantly processing. The show has in fact turned out to be mainly abstract in nature. The paintings have arrived from the broad range of my psyche to reveal their story, which is in turn my story.
A lot has happened in my life in the past year. I have reached my mid-century, my children have left home and I find myself coming to terms with a new sense of freedom as my empty nest in deepest west Cornwall opens out into areas of opportunity in these uncertain times. Inter family relations, ageing parents, and the vagaries of the modern world, all a demanding distraction, diverting one away from creative thought. However the work must go on and I find I can relate to the author Paul Auster writing about why he is compelled to write. ‘But there remains the "hunger to write", he insists, "to keep doing it", even if the good sentences refuse to come. The "excitement, the struggle, is emboldening and vivifying. I just feel more alive writing." ‘ Likewise for me, the desire to paint.
And so too, as Raoul de Keyser said, I find, "most precious to me are the unforeseen things that occur when I am working." As well as painting I find myself composing small poems as another way of trying to articulate how I feel:
Just in that space between
Boxing Day 2016
'Expansive Blue' is one of those paintings that I consider to be rather hedonistic in nature. It started with me looking at interviews and films on David Hockney and being drawn into his swimming pool paintings, with their clear blues and dancing yellow sunlit ripples. Then I found myself looking at Ed Ruscha’s series of photographs of nine swimming pools (1968), a paean to the beauty of the well-appointed Southern Californian patio and the blank white page. Happy childhood memories of swimming in friends’ swimming pools, relaxed and carefree days, flooded the canvas. The expanse of blue has a delineated white abstract square which attempts to capture the vast space within.
As a counterpoint to 'Expansive Blue', 'Elegy' is the same size canvas and it is the first painting that I tackled after the recent death of my father. Reflection and memory are described in this poetic lament. The dark black shapes, inspired by a recent visit to the Abstract Expressionism exhibition and by generally revisiting those painters on display at the Royal Academy, and seeing the Robert Motherwells at Bernard Jacobson, engulf the paler hues and raw canvas tones highlighted by sky blue, pinks and a dash of vibrant red creating a soaring, uplifting heart in the midst of the multitude of emotion that surrounds the loss of a parent. It was painted in one session, an immediate response, the gestural nature of the brush strokes describing a depth of feeling which includes elements of grief and joy. Its sidekick comes by way of 'Edburton Hill', a much smaller canvas, and coincidentally painted over a former painting called ‘Crossing’, proving an appropriate ground for the ensuing subject matter. I can quite clearly visualise the steep slope of the Downs above the tiny churchyard. A thin covering of snow, the black cattle near the top of the hill, the cool blue light of the sun on a beautiful winters day, the freshly dug stony pile in readiness for the return of the of the body to the earth. 'After Hours' could be an abstracted moonlit landscape, with light dancing and creating shadows on obscured thoughts.
Through all this the woman in me persisted in relentlessly cataloguing the meaning, wonder and familiarity of everyday life.
I've always been attracted to circles in painting. Terry Frost achieved pure 'joie de vivre' in his renditions of circles which suggested suns, moons and sensuous forms. It is a shape that I return to again and again when creating a painting. For Kenneth Noland (American painter 1924–2010) the circle was a means to explore colour; his were like orbs or symbolic solar systems and were definitely not to be read as targets.
I was flicking through Purple Fashion magazine and came across an article which struck a visual chord. The photography was by Jack Davison and the styling by Vanessa Reid. The photographs flew from the page and were direct and abstract, with the model’s body and clothes fusing beautifully with the gestural abstract circular brushstrokes of black paint.
I started ‘Female Instinct’, my mind again visiting the American Abstract Expressionists, then back to Newlyn and to Frost and his uninhibited mark making. My take on the circle began to emerge. The softest of pinks at the centre contrasting so strongly with the thick unruly but powerful black of the inner circle. Paler still the next circle. The thin red line, the drips and the seemingly random small dots, circles themselves, providing accent and charm to the overall composition, an extra flourish, a ‘je ne sais quoi’. These details are all important, sitting poignantly on the contrasting yellow surround which in itself suggests the female instinct to keep everything positive. As a device, I see the circle as encompassing, wholesome, satisfying and complete, containing love and kindness.
This led on to 'Nurture' and another, more figurative painting. This is a common way I work; simultaneously working on abstract and figurative subject matter. An archetypal couple are depicted on a domestic stage, cubist devices employed to display their formality. At short notice their youngest child, although fledged, expresses a need, a desire to experience once again that nurture and warmth provided by the parent. The pale shape envelops the child like a thick duvet as she nestles within the womb-like security of the home. The subject matter itself is indicative of a female perspective; the desire to protect ever present.
Along came 'Maman'. This woman, appearing in paint, was how I felt it felt to be me during this moment in time. The mother, the lover, the provider, the listener, sometimes not knowing which way to turn and constantly addressing the battle women have with body image. The abstracted basin of water, a domestic reminder to bathe the wounded and keep purity of thought. I had visited an inspirational exhibition of Louise Bourgeois drawings and sculptures at Hauser and Wirth in Somerset. Somehow their being displayed in this beautiful rural setting was doubly powerful and truly awe inspiring, the ‘multiple breast’ works were deceptively simple and so strongly feminine, and ultimately made their influence known to me in various studies and in the final image of this painting.
In the meantime the bare bones and exposure one sometimes feels as an artist presented themselves in 'Plan', which can be read equally as figurative or abstract. The inner workings are compartmentalised within an overall structure all contained within a soft warm grey ground. This is complemented by the somewhat diagrammatic composition of 'Rock', inspired in turn by some of Howard Hodgkin’s paintings from the fifties and sixties. The bold colours help to describe the autobiographical abstraction of two figures, male and female, keeping each other propped up through thick and thin, they are as one but remain individuals, each with their own character.
'Review', 'Poster', 'Ne Plus Ultra' and 'In Roads' fall into a similar category to each other. The soft, female, feminine, nurturing pink shapes in 'In Roads', reach out on a neutral background, only to be confronted and judged by darker shapes intruding, not as a negative force, but as an omnipresence demanding a certain space. It is about human and inhuman inter personal relationships. The red stripe pushing up from the bottom signifying a vital life force in the ongoing conversation. This vibrant red makes its way into 'Ne Plus Ultra' as a positive block of colour, again in a neutral landscape but with definite feminine attributes embellishing the underbelly of the form. It reveals both softness and strength. The rather manic busyness of 'Review' is underpinned by two abstracted figures, perhaps in the throes of performing some kind of dance. The dance of life, or a release from all the decision making thrown at one every day? 'Poster' exudes its powerful confidence, a banner for all to see, like hanging your washing out in public, its strength and forthrightness advocates positivity.
The three tiny paintings ‘Prima’, ‘Secundo’ and ‘Palm Olive’, depicting single female figures, are a primal response to femininity. They are made up of the bare essentials, attributes we should be proud of. Buttocks, hips, breasts, lips, tummies, nipples, pudenda should all be celebrated whatever shape or size.
This leaves my 'women', my archetypal muses. ' Olympia' strives to be an athletic, very defined figure. She has worked hard and is proud of her body and, metaphorically speaking, would therefore like to show it off. She is a fully functional sexual being and is not afraid of her status. 'Madre' on the other hand, is more demure, she has an open face and an engaging outlook. She is stylish yet understated, confident in her own skin. She reaches out. An adolescent 'Molly' contrastingly stands before us, naked and innocently vulnerable, her newly formed adult body making its debut. She is wildly independent, young, intelligent and honest. She is just beginning to make her own story. With her knowing gaze 'Muse' reminds me of an independent young entrepreneur. In particular she has something about her that tells me she knows what she thinks and where she is heading. She is going to make a difference in this world advocating culture and literacy as the way forward.
All this amid a world in turmoil. 'Flux' aims to smooth and comfort. The opposing red forces protrude towards each other, reaching out to make some sort of meaningful contact. The blue is like a tranquil lake slipping past; the concentric circles on the left of the canvas like a small whirlpool or an ear listening into the conversation.
Like a full stop 'Cruz' punctuates the end of the show. Literally the crux, the culmination of hard, tense and heart wrenching communication; a defiant figure, martyr like, stands her ground in an acrid yellow space. Strong black circles hover and protect her. Her character feels raw, reduced to the bare bones, she comes through stronger and clearer thinking.
And so, to end on a positive note, 'Sweet Success' is all we really need. We are all searching for the means and freedom to express ourselves, and the amorphous pale shape in this painting floats above a choice of paths, roads that could lead to anywhere.
Henrietta Dubrey February 2017
2. Sarah Wiseman Gallery. 'Identities' 4th to 25th March 2017
1. Can you describe a typical day in the studio?
I am sure that it is every artist’s dream to spend as much time as possible in their studio. The studio is a sanctuary, a place I come to, to try to escape the ordinariness and mundanity of everyday tasks and the outside world and its news that can so easily invade one’s creative space. It is not always the case, but at the moment I like to work in complete silence. I will start the day by making sure that there is as little distraction by way of paperwork on my desk and that not too many paintings are visible all at once. I tend to work on quite a few paintings at a time, and they will quite often be both abstract and figurative in nature. I will have my sketchbooks and other inspiration in the form of magazines and artist’s books on hand so that I can maintain a train of thought throughout each painting. Once I have started painting I can become fully absorbed in the actual action of applying paint and can begin to let the composition start a dialogue with me. I like to work by natural daylight if possible, so that most of my actual painting time is done during the day, followed by reading as much as possible at night.
2. Which artists do you identify with most?
I am constantly looking at other artists’ work by both men and women, but
it occurs to me that there are so many female artists that have inspired
me over the years. These include Kate Nicholson, Joan Eardley, Mary
Fedden, Gillian Ayres, Barbara Hepworth, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell,
Eva Hesse, Frida Kahlo, Sandra Blow, Jenny Saville, Prunella Clough,
Chantal Joffe, Marlene Dumas, Alice Neel, Amy Sillman, Sarah Lucas, Maria
Lassnig, in fact the list could go on; Helen Frankenthaler, Etel Adnan,
Ruth Kligman, Lee Krasner… I also admire a lot of female photographers;
Corinne Day, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann and Harley Weir.
3. When did you decide that you wanted to paint?
From a very early age I knew that I wanted to be an artist. My father was an architect and a fine painter himself. He encouraged me as a young child to draw and paint in an uninhibited way. Being surrounded by paintings my parents had collected and visiting artists houses was a tremendous influence. I can remember being quite obsessed by the naked figure and it became my favourite subject for some time, having been given a book of photographs by David Hamilton which I innocently believed were truly beautiful. As an impressionable teenager I was already looking at fashion magazines and studying artists who used the female as their muse. As a young adult I visited Charleston Farmhouse, home to the Bloomsbury Group, and as a result painted naked murals all over my bedroom walls. I was always attracted by the seemingly bohemian life style that artists appeared to lead and therefore knew that I wanted to be an artist myself. At school, by far my happiest memories were from many hours spent in the art room. I was adamant that I was going to art school, even though my school encouraged girls to follow a more ‘academic’ trajectory.
4. The exhibition is a show of four women artists. What are your thoughts on how far women have come in the arts? Do you define yourself as a 'Woman Artist'?
Yes, absolutely. I feel that my whole painting language is very female orientated. It is interesting to note that I very rarely paint men, and that if I do they will mostly be entwined with a woman in a loving, physical dialogue. My subject matter and the way I apply paint feels tremendously intuitive. I follow my feelings and emotions which dictate formalities of composition and colour choices. My inspiration is mainly derived from images of women, stories about women, and I have a strong belief that women and femininity are a primal and powerful force with their instinctive vision and philosophy of life. Women seem to comprehend and with their life-giving abilities are able to see what really matters. Their observation is critical in the way details are realised and brought to our attention. I think it is clear from the long list of female artists I have mentioned here, many of them being contemporary living artists, that women are taken far more seriously now than, say, in the nineteen forties and fifties in America, where competition to be represented by a major gallery was dominated by male artists. It is important to me to express through painting, whether abstract or figurative, an honest and direct approach. I want my voice to be heard, and I find the paintings themselves often inform me sometimes through happy accident, and remind me that I am constantly addressing life issues, consciously and sub consciously, whether in a self portrait or depicting a more archetypal woman.
5. Can you tell us about the women that appear in your paintings – are they autobiographical? – or more representative of other women, their lives and thoughts?
I am enclosing a quote here written by Olivia McEwan about my female
'Clean' is really a portrait of my daughter as she appears fresh from a
good night’s sleep, pyjamas, towel and mug of tea in hand, and starts to
prepare herself for the day and experiences that life will throw at her.
3. Catalogue introduction to 'Muse'
I could have imagined this
exhibition as a classic series of paintings loosely based around the nine
Greek goddesses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the
Arts and Sciences. Or it could have been an exhibition based on one
particular person or force who provided me with a source of inspiration,
real or imaginary, made up or copied from the page of a magazine. As so
often happens with an idea, neither of the scenarios realised themselves
or came to obvious fruition.
4.Catalogue introduction to
Just like I’d rather be painting than
writing about painting, abstract painting in particular allows a certain
freedom of thought, literally “abstracted ideas”, which, through the
medium of paint, gesture, colour, line and form, allow me the painter, and
the viewer, to interpret a composition on many different levels, leading
to a discourse and often something other, or becoming more than the sum of
its parts. Like a portrait painted under intense scrutiny, subtleties of
tone set a scene; the chaotic and accidental nature of mark making add an
unknown excitement to the work.
5. Thoughts on colour in my work
6. ROUGH DELUXE: SWEET CANDY and
Anticipation, temptation and
titillation; the excitement and trepidation felt at the idea of a solo
exhibition. We surround ourselves and are engulfed in a plethora of
images, texts and inspiration. The more one delves and enquires the wider
the search becomes. Decisions become impossible, the scope is immense.
Abstract versus figurative? Sweet Candy versus Wild Women? Or, a
combination of both, result: ROUGH DELUXE.
Henrietta Dubrey January 2015
7. Henrietta Dubrey Abstraction - New
Paintings from Cornwall - Eat Drink and Be Merry
8. 'Interim' Online exhibition Edgar Modern Bath August 2014
Interim is the
title for a series of five large abstract paintings to be presented in an
online exhibition at Edgar Modern, August 2014.
9. Catalogue introduction to 'Fifteen
In the search for a new simplicity, a directness of voice, I felt the need to express the ideas in pure abstraction, and following on from and developing my 2012 striped paintings, new bold shapes appeared across the canvasses. The palette of the works is subdued, quiet and contemplative. I was trying to achieve a more meditative and deep, thoughtful oeuvre.
‘Hive’ and ’Context’ were the first to appear, the pared-downness not quite achieved. The inspiration for these paintings was conceived during an IMS Prussia Cove concert on a cold winter’s night in Paul church. As the music played, my mind drifted and the ideas configured. The next morning in the studio, the compositions began to emerge instinctively, the particular ‘T’ shape and its dot repeating down the canvasses, which were worked on simultaneously. The works which followed these, pared down further the dark strong lines on these first paintings, creating grid like shapes, defining areas of canvas.
The whiteness, greyness and blackness, reminiscent of the winter months, the rawness of the season, the bareness, gave way firstly to a need for warmth and intensity as ‘Chocolatier’ was finished upon my return from a trip to London. This painting describes for me a coffee-time treat with my daughter at a favourite haunt of mine since my days at the RA Schools. We sat in Patisserie Valerie in Old Compton Street, sheltering from a beastly January blizzard of sleet and snow outside, luxuriating in delicious pastries within. And then a sudden splurge of brightest green appeared on a canvas, a premonition of spring; work was going well, positive shoots pushed through, and colour was once more introduced to the palette. ‘Seeing Red’, one of the ‘Fifteen’, juxtaposed with the cooler more austere wintry works, carries the concept of spring giving way to midsummer; a June burst of warmth and sunlight. The deep warm reds change subtly down the canvas, through bright red to an intense burnt orange at the bottom of the canvas; the loose brushwork constrained by equally free margin lines, creating a grid like pattern which in turn connect back to paintings like ‘January’.
Minimal in concept, it is an ideal opportunity for me to present these ‘Fifteen New Paintings’ as a body, in the hope that they tell a story of half a year of my artist’s life in West Penwith.
10. Catalogue introduction to
Various influences have featured strongly in the development of my painting since ‘From Abstraction’, my first solo show at Edgar Modern. The paintings in ‘Developing Horizons’ follow suite, in that I am still intrigued by working simultaneously on figurative and abstract pieces, and I feel that the dialogue between them is becoming ever stronger.
As a painter, I find myself constantly fascinated with the process of life, how one comes to terms with situations, reacts to situations; and especially, within my method of working and thinking, I am keen to see the outcome that is produced, almost subconsciously, in the final stages of my paintings. For me the power of description is equally expressed whether described in purely abstract terms, i.e. form, space and colour, or by depiction of the human form. Painting is a solitary occupation; hours are spent alone, ones mind free to explore spaces in which to create something out of nothing. The creative process begins and with the first brush stroke something is born, which one can nurture and develop, rather like one would a child, in to a meaningful end product. Whether this product is beautiful, aesthetic, powerful or provocative reveals its personal story in its eventual outcome.
A couple of exhibitions in particular which I have seen this year provoked particular thought processes which I have carried with me in to the studio. ‘Simon Since Fujiwara’ at Tate St Ives (spring 2012), and Picasso and Modern British Art at Tate Britain during the summer, the first of which rekindled my love of Patrick Heron’s 1950-60’s stripe paintings and the second, in which Picasso’s unique female forms, their succinct vitality and voluptuousness, the strength of which never fail to send shivers down my spine. Experimentation with coloured stripes, and discovering how different juxtapositions of colours, and different palettes, become evocative of certain emotions; considerations as to how they in some way relate to ones everyday comings and goings I found fascinating, as I carried out what I would describe as the occasional automatism in my method of painting, i.e. the process that happens when nothing is premeditated; the line, form and colour you choose that day is purely instinctive, and therefore what one produces is somehow the truest indication of the profoundness of ones own personal experience. Similarly the figures are drawn from the same depths, the social standing of the artist, the woman, the mother, lover and social being exposed in the rawest and rudest way, i.e. the naked truth, sometimes literally when the nude is depicted, where there is nothing to hide behind, with consequent exposure. With the expressive gestures I am trying to capture a feeling of how something is or feels.
Hopefully a continuing dialogue is apparent between these two genres, by the marks I make, the textures I create and my palette. It is my aspiration that the work presents itself as a body of work which has not only broadened, but continues to develop my horizons.
The following poignant quotes from Patrick Heron, Space in Colour, 1953, describe salient points which I feel apply to my artistic process:
“In painting, space and form are not actual, as they are in sculpture, but illusory.”
“Colour is the utterly indispensable means for realising the various species of pictorial space.”
“Spacial colour is,
however, a grammar: the language of space in colour can doubtless be made
to express anything that stirs in the consciousness of man.”
11. Henrietta Dubrey – Artist’s
Lynne Strover has a passion for British Contemporary Art, and has described her passion for supporting ‘living artists’ as ‘like going into the unknown – but it is exciting’ (Cambridge Business May/June 2011).
When I first met Lynne in St Ives about ten years ago I met a very direct, forthright character, who obviously knew exactly what she liked and why, and therefore attracted me, as an artist, to someone who could be a very positive influence on helping me to communicate my work to a larger audience. She said what she meant, and meant what she said, the proof being that she bought a very large abstract painting, one which I felt was strong and representative of my work at the time, yet one I was aware the ‘general public’ might struggle with. My faith in Lynne was set, especially when I visited her gallery/home in 2003 at the time of my first solo show in Fen Ditton.
Her gallery certainly has impact; immediate impressions revealed a clean, uncluttered and meticulous eye. My paintings sung out from the crisp white gallery walls, yet the space felt relatively domestic, encouraging confidence that an artwork purchased would sit comfortably in a home. As I was invited further into Lynne’s private space, the colours, objects and paintings on the walls spoke to me: a woman with impeccable taste. What really hit me though, was her living room; rich dark brown walls, a brave choice in itself, and to my utter delight my ‘large abstract’ in pride of place above the sofa, looking a million dollars. The juxtaposition of the pale greens, creams and yellows of my canvas against the deep wall colour was a powerful but comfortable statement which worked unexpectedly well. Another solo show followed in 2007 with numerous group shows in between.
Last year proved particularly exciting for me, with one opportunity leading to another. Having decided to allow my figurative work to be seen, as well as my abstract work, really for the first time since leaving the RA Schools in 1992, and by exhibiting them together, new directions opened up to me. The general response was very positive, and I accepted an offer from the Scandinavian design store Skandium, with branches in Brompton Road and Marylebone High Street, to showcase my paintings in their prestigious stores during the summer months. My name was emblazoned in bright yellow across their windows, and paintings such as ‘Eugenie’ and ‘Balancing Act’, big, bold, naked dancing ladies pranced before passers-by. One such passer-by happened to be the set designer for BBC’s ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ who thought these dancing ladies and powerful abstracts would be perfect to adorn the walls of Edina’s house in the three special episodes celebrating the 20th anniversary of the series, which they were just about to start filming. The work was shipped over to BBC studios and hung on set. Five paintings were used, the most prominent being in the living room and hallway. I have always absolutely loved ‘Ab Fab’; this really was a ‘Dream Come True’, coincidentally the title of one of the works chosen, and I still can’t believe it every time I see my paintings on the walls with Edina, Patsy and a star-studded cast casually playing in front of them. The whole world was going to see my work!
The paintings I am sending to Lynne for the Christmas period 2012 include two of my newer figurative series; ‘Scorcher’ is bright in palette, and depicts a reclining woman at her leisure, sunbathing in privacy, in her straw hat. Maybe startled by someone approaching, she is seductive, and the mood is hot; hence the title. ‘Looking Back’ is more subdued in palette and mood, possibly more of a self portrait. The viewer catches the moment the figure looks over her shoulder, checking before she moves on into the future.
12. Henrietta Dubrey – Artist’s Raisonnée
It is interesting how, when one hears other artists’ thought processes or ideas, that they can trigger a subconscious desire to further develop what you, yourself, are attempting to say in your own work.
Meeting Stella Maris for the first time, and hearing about her inspiration and ideas for her work to be represented in this show which we are sharing, started me thinking about the roots of my own work, especially the more abstract pieces. I found that this reflection revealed that I still look to my past and its inherent effect on my subconscious, and that it consequently seeps into my work. The paintings exhibited in this show explore both my Sussex roots and my adopted Cornwall.
Born and raised in Sussex, my connection with the place is still very strong. My parents still live there and I therefore visit frequently; when I do so, I am thrust back into a different world from the one in which I inhabit here in Cornwall. The rugged landscape I have become accustomed to here is instead suddenly full of green, of trees, of different colours; I am aware of different plants, textures, the creamy white of chalk, and the hard sharp flints which fleck throughout it. Several of the paintings in this show do, I think, reveal a real Sussex origin; others I see as wholly Cornish.
As a child, I was the much-youngest of three children. I spent many a lone hour walking on the Downs lost in my own thoughts, and experiencing what felt to me to be a vast openness. On top of the massive hill opposite our house, I could see for miles across the Weald and listen to skylarks, sit amongst the cowslips and scabious, smell the ripe wheat being harvested and fly in my imagination with the hang-gliders hanging in the thermals above the Devil’s Dyke.
Throughout my childhood regular trips to St Ives at Easter or during October became the highlight of my year. The tiny streets in St Ives, their fascinating names, Love Lane, Back Road West, The Digey, became a magical maze for me to explore and discover, in total safety, my independence in a small town. Long days were spent walking the coast path, and visiting Penzance, Newlyn and of course all the galleries and some notable pubs; The Sloop, The Tinners Arms, and The Gurnards Head. Sketch pad always in hand, I observed the rich colour of the rusty moorland bracken, amongst which monumental stones protruded interrupting the horizon, and alongside which rose tall majestic chimneys from the now redundant mining era.
This landscape, as well of course as the harbour with its fishing boats, piers, lighthouses, surfers and seagulls, was a fertile ground indeed for a young aspiring artist. I would follow my architect father around, sketching and observing the contrast to my normal experience. We used to stay in a top floor apartment in ‘Piazza’ overlooking the magical Porthmeor beach, the special light flooding in from north and south, a light reflected from the sand and sea surrounding St Ives, itself an island promontory.
Fascinating shops, galleries and characters, in particular Kathy at the Penwith Society of Artists, Henry Gilbert (Gilly) at Wills Lane Gallery, Bob Devereux at the Salt House Gallery, the Sloop Craft Market with its silver and knitwear, a New Years Day swim with Patrick Hughes and Molly Parkin, and the Porthmeor Studios where the latter shared a workspace, all stuck in my mind, and I would return to all these memories in my imagination once back at home with my sketchbooks. From this inspiration, I generated motifs which would appear again and again in my paintings all the way through my art school years in London, and henceforth during the five years I spent living in Northern France. In the end the pull of all this was so strong that it became inevitable that a move back to England had to be to Cornwall.
To be immersed into the area of west Penwith felt like a home-coming in an artistic sense. I felt at home with the artistic heritage which had recently been so vibrant, especially surrounding St Ives and along the north coast road in the direction of St Just where the influence of the landscape upon Peter Lanyon, Brian Wynter and Roger Hilton had been so prevalent. In 1999 when I moved to Cornwall Terry Frost and Sandra Blow were both still alive and working, the last great survivors of a truly golden era in British Art. Patrick Heron died just in that year. As Stella and I agreed, St Ives was the true birthplace of British modernism, a centre of excellence where Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth had drawn in the likes of Francis Bacon and Mark Rothko, thus inspiring the New York School which later led to Abstract Expressionism.
This sensation of the importance of the artistic heritage of St Ives has obviously become a common thread amongst many contemporary painters working in west Cornwall and further afield.
In the February 2012 edition of Cornwall Today there is an article on the painter Steve Joy. In this, he comments that he would like to see Cornish art move to another level, and feels the need to “generate a dialogue about painting in a deeper way, free of cliché and accepting of risk”. Concurring with this statement, for me this feeds back directly to the seriousness of integrity and the achievements of the Middle Generation St Ives Artists, and is crucial to my ongoing methodology.
It is because of this that I feel a particular connection with Stella. We both have strong connections with Sussex, and have been drawn to Cornwall through its profound artistic and creative energy, specifically that of the ‘Middle Generation’ referred to above, when St Ives was a real artist’s colony, a hubbub of ideas, energy and innovation in the post-war years. We do not seek to imitate, rather to intuitively carry on with the same integrity to produce original art, purely created from an intellectual stimulus which comes from infinite sources, creating a contemporary and strong statement for today.
Generally my work is inspired by a genuine desire to simply get in to the studio and paint. Inspiration comes from all around, but specifically the paintings in this show fall into three different categories; abstract landscape (Sussex), abstract landscape (Cornwall), and abstract figures, the latter mostly from my imagination. Talking to Stella started me on the route to making landscapes/paintings to do with my past and where I grew up. My formative years form an extremely important part of my inspiration; my mind often wanders back to childhood experiences and various specific memories. Intuitive paintings commence and develop over a period of time, building texture and composition, using thick impasto, smooth film like layers and fine line to create a sense of place, a feeling or mood of a place; suggestive, but not photographic records. The shapes and colours produced can suggest a time of year, a season, just as much as place. It seems to me that the landscapes fall into two distinct categories of east and west, Sussex and Cornwall.
Figures emerge more spontaneously than the landscapes, subconsciously derived from photographs in magazines or family albums. Characters are formed from the defining lines and curves of a body or face; a dancing lady appears, stretching, or bending, a figure sitting, or staring, and sometimes these subjects suggest to me something specific, for example in my painting ‘Shrimptons Pose’, which brings David Bailey’s photograph of Jean Shrimpton forward in time, a powerful and iconic image, still as relevant today as when it was taken, but brought into my world, and therefore yours as the viewer; the vibrant blue background, redolent of Shrimpton’s famous blue-painted Abbey Hotel here in Penzance. The bright palette and artistic license describe a keen offshore breeze, blowing her fiery hair away from her innocent young face, a fresh beauty.
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