A Christmas Taste of Sunshine

by Linda Winter Style Magazine - Winter 1991

My first visit to the studio and home of the painter, Alan Cotton was on a late September day when the air was still brimming with the scents and sounds of an English summer. Buzzards soared over the rolling Devon landscape, the sky was still sharp and blue. In the distance were the rolling Westcountry hills, closer to hand the not so wild almost gentrified landscape of England. The road heaved with cars full of trippers in search of the all elusive view. Everywhere had become so crowded that it was rapidly becoming all too easy to forget the smells and silence of true open country. I began to wonder whether I was becoming as narrow minded and trapped as the much loved country I was driving through. Tired and disillusioned I turned the corner and arrived.

Alan greeted me with a huge grin, masses of sympathy and entreated me to come into the studio. The walls were filled with brilliant colours and images of wide open spaces. Here was something more than a record of a visit to sunny climbs, this was the creating of a total experience. There in the corner of the room was the main reason for my trip, an enormous mural that quite dwarfed Alan, that was about to be dispatched to its new owner, the Head of Jaguar Cars. The paint was thick and luscious, a vibrant memory that had became captured in so much more than a bland two dimensional image. This was filled with the very smells and senses of Cyprus. They were locked forever in a moment, that would constantly be relived by any one fortunate enough to stand in front of it. This was a painting so full of light and colour that you could almost feel your skin begin to tan in front of it. The view rose up through a fore ground full of wild flowers and wheat. A favourite artist's device of Alan's that dates back to boyhood, whom he would wonder through the fields of his native Worcestershire, peering up into the sky through fields of barley. The brilliant oranges and yellows merged into the retreating fertile valley, in the distance the barren hills became one with the hazey blue sky.

Alan’s paintings are not just images to look at, they should be revelled in, visually ingested and emotionally consumed. Anything less would be a sin!

The inspiration for the collection of paintings of Cyprus came from a low level flight in a Red Arrows Hawk across the island followed by a number of slightly less exciting visits on the ground. Only on the second visit did Alan become totally enthralled by the undulating landscape. Suddenly every twist and turn in the road bought forth some new image to be captured and transferred to canvas. On his return he then spent many hours passionately re-creating the adventure.

Alan spent his formative years in Redditch, where at the tender age of six he drove his mother to making paint brushes from her own hair in order to placate his need to paint. 'Not an exercise she has had to repeat' he told me, chortling.

He was educated at the local grammar school and Art College, followed by a period at Ruskin Hall, Bournville School of Art, three years at Birmingham College of Art and a spell at Birmingham University to complete his education.

Through a varied life he has endeavoured not to lose sight of his humble beginnings. He is keen to help and encourage others along the way. A great believer in the need for art to be accessible to everyone, he is an active member of Exeter Art Centre and is involved in many ventures with the University.

Before committing himself fulltime to painting in 1982 he held the position of Senior Lecturer in charge of Painting and Art History at Rolle College Exmouth, which was preceded by a research fellowship at Exeter University.

To most people this would seem a busy enough life, but he has also found time to be involved in the production of a number of television programmes. These have been about his life as a painter, along with a number about art in general. One in particular was about the Newlyn School of painters, who would open their doors to the local people to see the work before it was dispatched to London galleries. This concept provided him with the idea for his Christmas show which is to be held at his studio from December 7th. By holding the show at Colaton Raleigh rather than in London he is hoping to be able to share his paintings with many more of the local people who would otherwise have not had the chance to see them.

At the end of the day it is not just financial gain that keeps artists painting (although it does help!), it is the bringing of pleasure to those close to you and those you may never meet, to be able to refresh a tired, jaded English palette by the injection of warmth and colour is a wonderful gift. On this cold grey November day the memory lingers on, for me as I feel sure it will do for many others.