Provence, Ireland, Sicily, Venice, Piemonte then home to Hartland
Thursday 16th September to Saturday 2nd October 2004
My own tiny art wheel, as it were, comes full circle with the writing of this foreword as I first met Alan Cotton in the early 1980's when involved, along with David Messum, in the making of the BBC-TV film, "An Artist on Every Corner", centred around the lives and works of the Newlyn School of Artists. While it is curious that all three of us should now be concerned with his current exhibition, at the same time it seems, to me at least, only right and proper that it should be so - it tidies things up.
Since those days, as anyone who knows anything at all about art in Britain will appreciate, both David Messum as gallery director and Alan Cotton, of course, as painter, have enjoyed highly successful careers in their chosen fields. Indeed, to be blunt, and to borrow the exhibition title, "As I See It" the latter is now one of this country's leading landscape painters. An accomplished communicator, writer and lecturer as well as painter in his early years, when film making with him I recall being immensely impressed not so much by his erudition - having been born and bred in Newlyn, until meeting Alan Cotton I thought I knew a thing or two about its celebrated School of Artists, but he knew just about everything there was to know about it and put me to shame - but by the quiet, unassuming, although authoritative, way in which he passed it on.
As well as being in the business then of making films about other artists, he has also had films made about himself, I think I'm right in saying that in the 1970's at least two films about his life and work were made and screened by the BBC.
An artist who has never sought publicity, never needed to shout about his work, but has always been happy to allow his pictures to speak for themselves, as a painter he has followed his heart and certainly not fashion or current trends in art. With his trusty painting knife, preferred to brush, he has carved a path through the jungle of the art world to emerge unscathed, untouched by its pressures and politics, to arrive at the apex of his profession. A landscape painter par excellence, dedicated to his art and only truly happy when standing or sitting before his canvas with knife primed with paint, if anything he is somewhat old-fashioned in that he eschews the clamour and the glamour, all the trappings of the celebrity artist, to pursue his own particular passion, that of painting, with the only thing that might keep him from it - and it would have to be pretty serious at that - being his love for his wife Pat and their family.
One for whom his fondness for the push and pull of paint across his canvas, the actual process of painting itself, not forgetting his crush on colour, is as powerful an attraction as his fondness for his subject matter, whatever part of the world he might happen to be in, as a landscape painter Alan Cotton is in a class of his own.
While it is probably a blend of his talent and technique, although I feel sure it goes deeper than that and has a lot to do with his soul as well as his heart, it is the way in which he uses his knife to build his compositions, bit by bit, layer upon layer, as carefully and as cleverly as any sculptor might, that invests them with an indefinable dimension which sets them apart, promotes them to a plane inhabited by only by a chosen few.
During the past score or so years, since those days with the Newlyn School, he has discovered places other than his adopted Devon, (he spent his boyhood in Worcestershire), in which to paint but, whether looking at Provence, Venice or Tuscany, like the Chianti Classico, one of my favourite tipples, produced in the Tuscan region of San Gimignano, his landscapes are intoxicating: richly coloured, full bodied, and most desirable.
Regrettably, although Alan Cotton has connections with Cornwall, in the past he numbered such St. Ives "Moderns" as Terry Frost and John Wells among his friends, he has remained true to his adopted Devon and has painted only rarely on what 1 regard as the "right side" of the River Tamar. As a Cornishman I can pay him no greater tribute than to wish that we could claim him as "one of ours", and to say that Devon's gain is definitely Cornwall's loss.
"Alan Cotton - 'As I see it' - 2004"
Published by David Messum Fine Art
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