Alan's art set for a return to its Devon roots

by Alan Cole Express & Echo - Saturday 8 February 2003

Devon artist Alan Cotton has travelled the world searching for the perfect view. His journeys have taken him far and wide from the pastoral landscapes of mainland Europe to the striking mountain regions of Morocco. But the roaming painter always returns to Devon and now Exeter art lovers have a chance to see a major retrospective of his work. Alan Cole met up with him.

A Westcountry artist who continues to make a name for himself in this country and abroad is finally showing a major collection of his work in his adopted county.

Landscape artist Alan Cotton exhibits at Messum's Gallery, one of London's pre-eminent art spaces is set to display his work in Exeter this weekend for the first time in 12 years.

His work has been exhibited at leading centres around the world and Alan has recently received a personal invitation to join art lover Prince Charles on an official overseas tour. He will sit and paint alongside the Prince, "when the opportunity arises".

The exhibition Sense of Place opened this week at Northcote House Gallery, University of Exeter, and reveals an artist who although in total harmony with his natural environment is still searching for that ever elusive perfect landscape.

This major collection of Mr Cotton's paintings are garnered from travels through typically exotic and breathtaking locations such as Provence, Tuscany, Cyprus, Piemonte in Northern Italy and the rugged landscape of the West of Ireland.

This year the painter, who prefers to make the rolling hills of Devon his permanent choice, even trekked through North Africa across the Atlas Mountains to the edge of the Sahara Desert.
The results of many of these travels can be seen at the new exhibition, the first at the University of Exeter, for many years.

The artist who feels compelled to paint the countryside, says he was first drawn to painting when he was a youngster. "I think it was the sense of escapism. To be out in the countryside is good for the soul," explained the debonair Mr Cotton, who makes Colaton Raleigh, in East Devon, his permanent home.

"I have painted ever since I was a child. It was about trying to escape I think and create a world away from the hustle and bustle."
"I have always gravitated towards painting landscapes. It's the uniqueness of the ever changing landscape and the quality of the light. It's about light and atmosphere and capturing those moments of special significance."
"It makes you think there must be a spiritual aspect to our life when you see such breathtaking views."
"When you consider all the varying colours of landscape you cannot help being affected by it but it is all about aesthetics for me really it’s about capturing those moments."
"Painting has been very kind to me. It has allowed me to travel and allowed me to go to some great places and meet people of different cultures."
"Painting is such a wonderful thing, to be able to travel and to work outdoors and to meet people."
"It is a way of life which has been very good for me but a lot of people do not realise there is such a commitment to it."
"I am a very early person. I start about six or seven, something like that, and do a full morning. I tend to sketch when I am travelling and then complete the work in my studio."
"When I visit a country I spend a lot of time getting to know places before I start my work. I need to get to know the history and the culture. It might be several years before I start painting there. I have been going to Ireland for about five or six years before I painted. I need to get to know the people and talk to people and drink the Murphy's!"

Alan Cotton grew up in Redditch, Worcestershire, where he attended the local Grammar and Art Schools before moving on to study at Bourneville School of Art, Birmingham College of Art, and Birmingham University Later he fell in love with the Westcountry.

He first came to Exeter in the 60s and in the late 70s he became a research fellow at the University Of Exeter. There have been over 40 exhibitions of his work in this country.

Mr Cotton is now also President of the South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts. Fellow Acamedicians include acclaimed pop artist Peter Blake.
Mr Cotton says: "It is a tremendously vibrant area for the arts. "Down in the South West there are more art groups than anywhere in the world. In the late 60s I moved here to do a masters degree, and have been here ever since."

Alan explained that his career began to take off when he met dealer David Messum. "An artist is like an actor. He needs a good agent."
"I met David Messum in 1978 and it was the start of a good relationship for both of us. It has been a great success for both of us."

There have been a number of television films about Alan's work in this country and abroad and in May 1986 for the second time a collection of his work was staged at the Canada Art Gallery, Victoria, British Columbia.