The full title of this occasion was ‘Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings – In Context’. It was based on The Courtauld’s current exhibition of the same title (minus the ‘- In Context’). Essentially it was meant to consist of four lectures and a 45 minute ‘conversation’ between the two curators of the exhibition. In practice one of the lecturers did not appear so we enjoyed instead an hour or so to visit (in my case revisit) the exhibition and a rather longer ‘conversation’. As it turned out, these last two elements were the most engaging, in part because of the first three speakers’ failure to present their material in an audience-friendly way. Technical problems with the audio-visual side of the presentation added to an unprofessional air about the proceedings; overall I thought an audience of some 60 people each paying £39 to attend deserved better.
That said, the actual content was first-class, as one would expect. Professor Sam Smiles delivered an excellent (and audible) presentation on ‘Peter Lanyon, Flight and the British landscape tradition’ – Lanyon very much saw himself as in the same tradition as Constable and Turner; and the ‘conversation’ between the curators, Toby Treves and Dr Barnaby Wright, proved particularly revealing about the translation of Lanyon’s technical skills in gliding into great canvases. One could but admire the application which had taken Dr. Wright from a realisation that those canvases could be better appreciated only by a personal experience of gliding to acquiring precisely that and then becoming a qualified glider pilot himself. This enabled him, like Lanyon, to fly solo and so move into that almost existential state of sensitivity, indeed of being, that Lanyon was trying to express in his ‘gliding paintings’ either side of 1960.
Personally, I now appreciate better than before two major aspects of Lanyon’s art: the influence of his travels and work with and on machines while on military service during the Second World War; and how important it is to realise that a technical dimension about gliding (and its language) is embedded in great canvases that at first may well appear to be but meaningless squiggles and splodges but are actually mindful expressions of deep insight into the human experience through an innovative use of painting.Yet most people, I find, even art-lovers, have not even heard of Peter Lanyon, let alone be familiar with his work, and I suspect, despite this exhibition, his status as one of the outstanding, pioneering English artists of the 20th century will remain widely unappreciated yet awhile. My impression was that most of the people at this Study Day do appreciate, however, how lucky they are.
Added on 1 Jan, ’16: the influence of Lanyon, and the impact of this Study Day, overtly appear in a new painting (see post for 30 Dec ’15) made during December despite all my intentions not ‘to do a Lanyon’. It is not a copy of a Lanyon but I used on a small scale some of his modes of expression in trying to convey some of the sensations, physical and visual, experienced in my own ‘flying career’ in glider and light aircraft.