How a month has fled by since I was blogging in late September is a mystery: difficult month October. But it ended on a high with a visit to the exhibition at the Courtauld of ‘gliding’ paintings by Peter Lanyon. They are superb, and especially now I can understand them better.
The exhibition reminded me that Lanyon was one of the three artists – Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson being the other two – who originally inspired me when, in deciding whether or not to take my painting seriously, I gave myself a crash course in art history and art appreciation by looking at (and in many cases buying) art books and visiting lots of galleries and exhibitions. I wanted to paint like Lanyon in particular and he and the other two can be found without much difficulty (though at several stages removed, to put it mildly) in my early paintings. In fact, I ‘did’ several Lanyons before, in my ignorance, I learnt the hard way that there was rather more to painting like him than making oily marks on canvas in his style.
Tate St Ives devoted the whole of its idiosyncratic exhibition space to a Lanyon retrospective some years ago and I travelled down to see that: what an experience, not least because the works were arranged chronologically and one could see how a very good painter was taken into another dimension by one experience, learning how to pilot a glider. Lanyon’s perspective literally took off, not just in seeing his well-known Penwith landscape from above but in attempting to express his experience of ‘skyscape’ (I think he invented the word) in terms of sensations and emotions. I can relate to that because, although never a pilot and with but one (never-to-be-forgotten) glider flight under my belt, I have nevertheless spent many hours in light aircraft and hot-air balloons. Though I have not shared the sense of control and freedom that Lanyon so enjoyed, I can empathise with his attempts to express on canvas, for example, the seeming hostility of billowing clouds and what it feels like to be confronted by them as one is engulfed by white nothingness and loses eye contact with the familiar landscape below.
I bought the catalogue of Lanyon at the Courtauld and I am going back there for a study day on him and his work in a fortnight’s time. I am already a little wiser, however, as I go into this second ‘Lanyon phase’, and this time I shall not attempt to ‘do a Lanyon.’