Alan Cotton MBE
Alan was born in Redditch, Worcestershire, where he attended the local Grammar and Art Schools, before moving on to study at Ruskin Hall, Bourneville School of Art. He progressed to Birmingham College of Art and after three years in the Painting School there, completed his training at the Universities of Birmingham and Exeter, where he took a Masters Degree in Education.
He began painting as a small child with brushes made from his mother’s hair. It was this interest that took him away from the monochrome grime of the town into a landscape where he could create his own sense of order. He recalls an early memory of sitting low down on the edge of a barley field drawing the shapes of the plants displayed against a blue sky and feeling the intense joy of being out in the natural world.
After leaving the University of Birmingham, Alan went to teach at Lydney School of Art, on the Severn Estuary and Alan and Tricia bought and converted two miners’ cottages and added Alan’s first studio. In the mid sixties he was seconded from Lydney School of Art to do an Advanced Diploma at the University of Exeter. During this time he was appointed Senior Lecturer in Painting and Art History at Rolle College Exmouth and the family move to live permanently in Devon.
When Alan first came to East Devon he fell in love with the area and did many paintings along the River Otter and the surrounding valley. It was here that Alan built his present home, studio and gardens, which have been developed over the years, in the Village of Colaton Raleigh in East Devon. He then discovered the Hartland coastline in North Devon and has returned there many times, producing a large body of Hartland paintings. Many of these have found their way into public collections, including the RAMM at Exeter, Plymouth City Art Gallery and the University of Exeter, who now have five of his Hartland paintings.
Alan has work in important collections in Europe and North America, including the Royal Collection. He has undertaken a wide range of public commissions, including three large paintings for the Queen Mary II, a painting for the Royal Marines, a series of five paintings for the University of Exeter, to commemorate its Silver Jubilee, five large Venice paintings for the Vice-President of the American cruise ship company Carnival and a large painting of the Lighthouse at Hartland Point for the Chinese company, Hartland Shipping Services, which now hangs in their UK offices in Covent Garden, London.
In 2005 Alan was honoured to accompany His Majesty the King, when he was Prince of Wales, to Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, as his Tour Artist. In 2006 he was awarded and Honorary Doctorate (D.Litt) for his “ … outstanding contribution to the Arts and in the Spring of 2011 was appointed the first Hon. Professor of Arts at the University of Bath, a position that he still holds and was later given an Honorary Doctorate (D.Arts) by the University, presented to him by its Chancellor, The Earl of Wessex. During her Majesty the Queen’s visit to Exeter, in her Diamond Jubilee Year, Alan was chosen to be introduced to Her Majesty, as the representative of the Arts in the South West.
In the year 2000 Alan was a founding member of the South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts and its President for the first six years. He has worked closely with many charities in a variety of ways, including organising auctions and donating paintings. The Charity close to his heart, for which he has raised funds for many years, is Children’s Hospice South West.
Over the years Alan has done much to support and promote the Arts in the South West, particularly working with children, students and disabled painters. He is Patron and President of a number of Art Societies. For many years he was a Director of the Exeter and Devon Arts Centre, fund-raising for its development into the Exeter Phoenix and for twenty years was on the Fine Art Committee of the University of Exeter.
Art Historian, Jenny Pery has written three books on Alan’s Life and work, published by Halsgrove. They are Alan Cotton – On a Knife Edge’ (2003). Alan Cotton – Giving Life A Shape (2010) and Alan Cotton – Drawn to Paint (2019)
There have been a number of 30 minute television programmes about his work and as a presenter and writer, he has been involved in many arts films for BBC and ITV (Westcountry and Carlton). He has also done many radio broadcasts over a number of years.
In April 2011 Alan travelled as Expedition Artist to Mount Everest. He was part of a team led by his friend, the explorer and adventurer, Sir David Hempleman-Adams. Later that year, he made a second journey to Everest with David, where Alan did many drawings, despite temperatures of minus 25 degrees. The paintings of Everest and its surrounding landscape were the main feature of his London Exhibition at Messum’s in September 2012. The following year Alan and David travelled together to the Alps – to the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, where Alan did many drawings, which resulted in a series of new paintings.
In 2015, the University of Bath staged a Retrospective exhibition of Alan’s work, opened by the Earl of Wessex. It then transferred to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, where it was opened by the actor and collector of his work, John Nettles.
In 2022 New Year’s Honours Alan was awarded an MBE for “Services to the Arts in the South West of England.” This was presented by His Majesty the King, at Windsor Castle, in December 2022.