Listed in alphabetical order
I am deeply embedded in European cultural influences, and as a teenager, had my eyes and heart open to European Modernism in art, music and literature. Spending my teenage years in the 60’s, the language of non figurative and abstract painting fell easily into my young and fertile consciousness and has been, an all-engaging life pursuit.
I am profoundly grateful that I found a voice, to express my aspiration, to become and to be, an artist at an early age. Thomas Merton commented that, “A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live.” I began to live Painting and Making as a young teenager and knew then that this was my calling It has held me, obsessive, fascinated and engaged, throughout my life.
Susanna Bauer uses what is small and fragile to express what is universal and enduring in our coexistence with each other and the natural world. In a uniquely conceived approach to craft, Bauer works with the everyday, inconspicuous details of our natural surroundings, skilfully embroidering found magnolia leaves with a halo of cotton thread and coaxing others into finely constructed three-dimensional shapes.
Her work draws out from each tiny object its own unique story of creation, existence and belonging in a way that mirrors our own exceptional path through life.
John Bellany studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art under Sir Robin Phillipson from 1960 to 1965. During this time he gained an Andrew Grant Scholarship in 1962, taking him to Paris and in 1965 he received a Postgraduate Travelling Scholarship enabling him to travel to Holland and Belgium. He went on to attend the Royal College of Art, London, where he studied under Carel Weight and Peter de Francia from 1965 to 1968. Bellany went on to be Lecturer in Painting at Brighton College of Art in 1968 and from 1969 to 1973 was Lecturer in Painting at Winchester College of Art, Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art and at Goldsmiths College of Art. From 1978 to 1984 he was Lecturer in Painting at Goldsmiths College of Art and was Artist in Residence at Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne in 1983.
Bellany’s first solo exhibitions were held at the Dromidaris Gallery, Holland (1965), at Edinburgh College of Art (1968) and at Winchester School of Art (1969). From 1970 he exhibited in solo shows annually throughout the UK. His first international solo exhibition was held at Rosa Esman Gallery, New York in 1982 and this quickly led to a string of exhibitions around the world. In 1986 he was given the first solo show ever to be held at the National Portrait Gallery, London, centred around his portrait of Ian Botham, commissioned by the NPG. He also had a solo show at the National Portrait Gallery, Scotland in 1994, exhibiting his portrait of the composer, Peter Maxwell Davis commissioned by the gallery; this was surrounded by other works by Bellany, held in its collection.
Retrospectives of his work were held in 1983 (touring the UK, the United States and Australia), in 1986 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh and the Serpentine Gallery, London, in 1988 at the Ruth Siegel Gallery, New York and at the Hamburger Kunsthalle and Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund (1988-89). His work has also been included in many key group exhibitions both nationally and internationally since 1963.
Among Bellany’s numerous awards are the Burston Award at the Royal College of Art (1965), John Moores Prize Winner (1980), Major Arts Council Award (1981), Athena International Art Award (joint first-prize winner, 1985) and the Royal Academy’s Wollaston Award (1987). In 1992 he received a British Council visit to Central Europe and in 1993 he won the Korn/Ferry Picture of the Year Award at the Royal Academy. His commissions include murals for Chesser House, Edinburgh (commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1965) and the portraits of Lord Renfrew and Sir Roy Caine (commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, London).
Bellany was elected Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1988 and in 1994 was awarded the CBE. He went on to be given an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Edinburgh in 1996 and an Honorary D Lit by Heriot Watt, University of Edinburgh in 1998. He was elected RA in 1991 (ARA 1986), Honorary Member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1986, and in 1998 was made a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art, London.
John Blackburn occupies an unusual position in British art. Born in Luton, he trained at Margate School of Art before doing National Service and going to live for a time in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands (1954-62). He returned to England and a period of early success in the 1960s, when his work was bought by Jim Ede (who founded Kettle’s Yard). After that, Blackburn largely dropped off the artistic radar until he was rediscovered in 2002; but since then, his reputation has deservedly gone from strength to strength, and he has become re-established as a name to conjure with. Now in his eightieth year, Blackburn is recognized as an abstract painter of originality and vision, an artist capable of taking the Modernist project of St Ives (Hilton, Scott,Wynter, Lanyon and Frost) into the twenty-first century, and breaking his own new ground.
Nearly forty years in the wilderness have neither embittered Blackburn nor deterred him from pursuing his own path. He divides his time between a studio in Kent and foreign travel. Recently, he has spent the early part of each year back in New Zealand, where he enjoys working in different personal and physical conditions. Blackburn responds to context, and the quality of light in New Zealand affects his sense of colour, resulting in some uncharacteristic pastel tints. This lighter (and perhaps more lighthearted) palette has begun to enrich the work he makes in England. Looked at overall, Blackburn’s paintings have been predominantly brown, black and white.Now, blue and pink have been steadily creeping in, vermilion even, while various ochres enliven the habitual greys and whites. ‘Pink Form’ (2010) (p17) is a fine example of this – also of the tall upright format the artist often favours. The constraints of this shape seem to suit him, and the group of upright paintings contain some of his best and most inventive shapemusic of recent years.
This is not to suggest that the work Blackburn generally makes in Kent is uniformly dark and doom-laden. But on home territory, the artist engages directly with his longterm preoccupations, and derives more inspiration from his internal landscape than from his external surroundings. His paintings are not directly of figure or landscape, but deal with relationships and states of mind, and these less readily definable qualities invariably involve both people and environments. Art is about making ethical and poetic judgements, about discerning nuance. It is also about bringing together a number of generalities to reach a concrete formal conclusion (the painting), which the artist hopes will act as a bridge between himself and his potential audience. This process of transformation can only be achieved through the constant practice of making art, but it is often the addition of happenstance which brings about resolution. In other words, the roles of intuition, juxtaposition and the irrational are just as important as anything intended. The unexpected is crucial.
The addition of extraneous matter to the picture plane is one of Blackburn’s favourite strategies for surprising himself into making a telling statement. In this he somewhat parallels the activities of the late Catalan artist and alchemist, Antoni Tàpies. There is too much talk of alchemy in modern art commentary (it’s an easy metaphor for the transformative processes of art), and in Blackburn’s case it’s preferable to concentrate on the witty way in which the artist extends his formal vocabulary. Several new paintings incorporate bits of old iron (one fragment even resembles a man trap or chastity belt) (p55), and ‘Shoe Picture 1’ (2012) (p47) includes several pairs of shoes. The satiric aspect of Blackburn’s work emerges strongly here, in a painting which triumphantly appropriates a post-Pop idiom, with more than a genial nod and a wink to Rauschenberg.
Blackburn defines a great painting as a balancing act between self-expression and impersonal statement, the point at which form and content are held in fruitful dialogue, and ‘the artist has managed to extract himself when the painting’s at its highest level’. This is an operation fraught with risk, and the artist must be prepared to lose the painting in order to succeed. The exposure to risk is essential to the health of the activity. This is one reason why so often he paints wet on wet, in itself a risky procedure, and why he pushes his forms into three dimensions with collaged additions.
The material dispositions of his paint are surprising and intriguing, his mark-making generates an unexpected play of thoughts and emotions – the whole physical presence of Blackburn’s paintings is original and compelling. There is nothing polite here. There might be lumps in the canvas – folds or overlaps, different layers. These are intentional. If Blackburn wants a smooth surface he makes one. In the same way if he wants the paint to run, he encourages it; otherwise a form is carefully and precisely outlined.
Blackburn’s list of admired artists ranges from Goya to Roger Hilton, via Fautrier and Bacon. Twombly is one of his favourites because of the beauty in his work, beauty that does the spirit good. All have inspired him and some have proved very useful to steal from – as recommended by Picasso. One or two paintings seem to contain an echo of Hilton, but Blackburn’s personal vision has turned a shared formal device (abutting square, circular or boat-shaped forms; an inventive use of outline with vigorously applied paint) into something very much his own. There is a world of difference between using a gimmick – such as a specific unusual texture or material – and redeploying a shape which in its fulfilled ordinariness is a lasting one in the general vocabulary of forms available to all artists. For instance, the circle or sphere can never be exhausted because it is the basic form of so much central to our lives: the world itself, the belly, the sun, the womb, the moon, the breast.
Two paintings made earlier this year, ‘Brown/Black Squares’ (right) and ‘Black, Brown,White’ (p51), feature a row of black dots along the top, rather like holes or the perforations in a spiral-bound sketchbook. This similarity confirms in these large paintings the immediacy of the sketch that was already present in Blackburn’s paint-handling. There is an urgency and spontaneity to much of his best imagery which affirms the potent informality of his approach and suggests the work of a much younger man. It is this ability to question his aims and assumptions, and fruitfully to reinterpret favourite themes, which ensures John Blackburn’s continuing relevance as an artist.
What is your background?
After A-levels I did a foundation course at St Albans School of Art and then chose to specialise in fine art painting and studied at Brighton Polytechnic in the early 1970s. Followed by their Postgraduate Printmaking Course and I subsequently went into art teaching and making my own work.
My main interest was always in painting and I was trained in traditional oil painting techniques and worked very much as a kind of expressionist/ figurative expressionist painter working from landscape, still life, and the model. During my time at Brighton my main tutor was Dennis Creffield and initially, I worked with him in the life room and did quite a lot of landscape-based work on my own. Then gradually my interest developed much more into abstract work very much based on a strong feeling for colour influenced by
American Abstract Expressionists, and English and European Abstract artists, like the St. Ives School.
Do you come from a creative family?
In the conventional sense of the question not as such; my parents were not painters, but I think that they were very skilled creative people in their own right. My father was initially a bookbinder – an old fashioned bookbinder – who worked with paper and leather tooling and my mother was a very fine embroiderer all her life, and indeed my brother was very artistic and went to art college and studied fine and graphic art, so undoubtedly I think that those kind of interests and skills were in the family.
How and where do you where do you work?
After some years in London, I moved to the east side Bournemouth. I’ve lived here about 30 years now and I’ve developed a large studio at the end of the garden which includes a big painting area and a print area with an etching press and silkscreen printing table. It’s a fabulous location, very near the cliff tops; I can walk down to the beach and the coast opens up east and west, towards The Purbecks in one direction and the Isle of Wight in the other.
Stylistically how do you classify your work?
That’s a little tricky because I have worked across quite a variety of interests but I am essentially an abstract painter but influenced and inspired very strongly by the natural world – landscapes and seascapes – and poetic aspects of that, such as light, shade and colour. I think that my work has always been at the abstract expressionist, lyrical end of paint handling. I quite like drawing in the landscape and along the cliffs and in the country but I never use that directly in the work. All the main work is done in the studio and the abstract qualities of the canvas are paramount, the sense of composition colour, feeling for light, shade, tone and the work is nearly always evocative of the natural world.
What research do you do?
I don’t do any particular research for any given work. I tend to accumulate ideas and feelings about particular subjects
that I then explore and experiment within the painting. In that sense it is very much a studio practice, an experimental time, finding out what I can do with certain concepts and working across different scale and media; experimenting with scale from very small to large scale work, drawing and working things out in print, then taking ideas from print into paintings and vice versa.
I don’t specifically do research because the way I live provides an incredible inspiration to my work; being out in the landscape, walking by the sea, the light, the fantastic environment results in a lot of self-generating work in large series. If I have a given idea I will explore it in many different ways perhaps in ranges of colour, in terms of scale, drawing, and printmaking.
What themes do you pursue?
Over long periods of time, I get involved with certain themes. I’ve had generic titles like Headlands, Coastal Light, and Night Sea and so on. Within those series of ideas, I explore lots of the compositional possibilities that they present. I also work across different mediums, although initially I only worked in oil paint and generally worked on a very large scale. In more recent years I’ve used acrylic much more, combined with collage to build up a paint surface that I find more satisfactory.
How has your artistic practice changed over time?
Initially, as a figurative painter, my ideas were taken specifically from the landscape or figure, some kind of motif I had observed even if the painting itself was developed from memory, but gradually I shifted and colour became very much a key element in the work and almost like the subject matter of the work. I no longer rely on any specific motif and the actual quality of the oil paint which I used in the early years very very thickly, tended to almost become part of the subject matter of the painting. Of course, you then have the problem of finding a form for it to take, so the key thing was developing compositional ideas, scale, paint handling and colour. Over the years that has not fundamentally changed because those sort of abstract qualities are the ones that interest me, but I haven’t relied so much on heavy oil paint as a carrier for any image. I’ve developed much more interest in potential compositions and all the problems that they bring up.
Why do you do what you do?
The simple answer would be that I guess I fell in love with the activity of painting and drawing very early on in my teens and I got great satisfaction from doing that and that has never really left me, if anything I get more enthusiastic about it, but I love all the things that connect with that kind of work as well. I’ve always loved drawing, the key element in my work, the many different areas of activity that encompass printmaking and feel very much at home working with silkscreen and etching. I think it is just really being completely absorbed in something and developing it and committing to it over what, in fact, is now a lifetime, but it is really through the sheer enjoyment of doing it.
Repeatedly asked why he does not tend to paint his native Scotland, John Brown states simply, ‘I like to be warm’, going on to praise the quality of light and colour in the various Mediterranean destinations that he uses for inspiration. ‘A Mixed Pallette’ is perhaps a fitting description for Brown’s December show at Lemon Street Gallery: as an artist who regularly bases his exhibitions on his most recent travels, this current body of work features pictorial sources from various residencies across Europe – from Corfu and Paxos, to Moire and Collioure. The show demonstrates the artist’s pure and genuine zeal for colour and light, with works that range dramatically in size and stylistic representation, yet maintaining the constant vibrancy and beauty for which Brown is so well acclaimed.
Regularly flitting between abstract and pictorial representation in his paintings, Brown has yet to be pinned down as a painter of solely one or the other, a style that he compares to Richard Diebenkorn, an artist frequently cited as a particular source of inspiration for Brown in his use of colour and methods. Brown also uses his own preliminary work as a basis for progression – his on-the-spot sketches are seen as gateways into his ‘flirtation with abstraction’, as he focuses on the sketches’ tonality or linear quality as a method of determining how the final piece will look.Working predominantly on board, the surface is prepared using a mixture of collage materials, including paper, canvas and fabric in various textures, in order to give the bright acrylics that dominate the mood of the work ‘something to cling to’. The result is an intriguing, multitonal piece that captures the spirit of its location-based subject in both its bold use of colour, and its tactile intricacy. More recent work sees a dramatic introduction of stark black lines that kick out against the bright colours, creating a very deliberate juxtaposition.
Brown’s fascination with texture is what pervades his choice of subject, seen in his frequent return to the decaying grandeur of old European towns and villages. ‘I get drawn to the same sorts of subjects wherever I am,’ Brown says. ‘I fall in love with surface textures: distressed walls, flaking paint, footprints, washing hanging out of windows, fruit and veg markets.’ Combined with the sun-bleached colours and light of the Mediterranean, the end result is pleasantly tactile and evocative. Another key interest of Brown’s is windows, and their artistic potential as subjects for an artist whose work centres on multiple layers and surfaces, and the illusion of texture and depth that comes from painting and using a variety of materials and techniques.
John Brown’s December show at Lemon Street Gallery is a fantastic mix of shape and tonal vibrancy. The works illustrate Brown’s versatility across many different styles and showcases the entire spectrum of his interest in locational subjects.
Rosie Willmot 2011
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