Alan Cotton - 'A sense of place'
Written by Ian Collins Devon Life - Spring 2001
Paintings from Venice, Provence, Piemonte and the West Coast of Ireland
Alan Cotton is skilled in the art of communication. He is a landscape painter, whose passions are for places and pigment and people.
Throughout his life, accidents and chance encounters have led to friendships and pictures. He moved to the Westcountry - and to Devon's glorious Otter Valley - after studying for his Master's Degree at the University of Exeter. Soon he was discovering a world beyond, which has already inspired some of the greatest pictures and characters in the history of British landscape painting. Here Alan first made his individual mark. Here - at least for nine months each year - a wanderer has long been at home, and here he draws on the copious sketches from his travels, plus the powers of imagination and memory, to produce evocative oils.
Introduced to Provence by his artist heroes, Van Gogh and Cezanne, Alan then moved beyond the well-known sights of Aries and St. Remy, to unsung comers he could make his own. But as shown by the 70 pictures in this exhibition and the four ensuing tributes in this catalogue, links with the living have proved the chief spur to his nomadic art. As a teacher, author, broadcaster and, essentially, as a dedicated painter, he connects with people and they connect with him. From Provence to Piemonte, to Venice, to the far West Coast of Ireland, he celebrates the life within the landscape.
After a rather austere upbringing in the Midlands, Alan has steadily turned his pictures into sensual feasts. The viewer is offered the full flavour of his experience and enthusiasms - feeling the elation of early morning light in a dew-drenched valley, or a languid shadow-laden Venetian afternoon; smelling the wild thyme, tasting the wine and the olives over a companionable meal. His key journey, of course, is a visual voyage into colour: from the cool greens and blues of the Emerald Isle to the searing yellows and crimson of the Mediterranean he is (and we are) thrilled by telling contrasts.
Alan's technique as a painter is also interesting, as, encouraged by critic John Berger, he paints and draws with a knife. No stabbing and slashing for him, however. Instead, profligate with paint, he sculpts with banks of pigment and then talks of 'caressing' the surface of the canvas to delineate delicate features, such as seeds, leaves and grasses. Dragging and scumbling wet on wet, he gives solid form to vivid reflections in water. The paradox of this highly sensitive art is that it focuses on surface texture and tension to strike at the essence of every subject.
These pictures may suggest an easy facility, but often they have evolved over long periods. "I had been visiting Ireland for 15 years before I began to paint it," says Alan. "I wanted to get under the skin of the place and to do that I felt I had to read the history, talk to the people, drink the Guinness and listen to the music. It takes time." Now he has started to visit India. But it may take years before he distils his memories on to canvas back in his Devon studio.
By Ian Collins, art critic and author of 'A Broad Canvas' published by Black Dog.