An English Painter Abroad


An Exhibition of Paintings from Tuscany Provence and Venice
22nd March to 7th April 1990

Foreword by Hugh Scully

Of all the many pleasures of life there is one, for me, that exceeds all others. The talent, the ability, the flair, to be able to spend your time doing something you positively enjoy. Alan Cotton has been doing that for years and his art reflects it. I find his pictures abundantly full of a sheer love of life, of the simple unmanicured beauty of nature, of sunshine on golden fields, of broad open vistas, the complex patterns created by the play of light and shade, the rippling images of grand buildings on clear water and the crumbling stucco of old towns.

I so well remember Alan's highly successful exhibition of Provencal paintings of a couple of years ago. The pictures all but transported me to that warm, still, herb scented countryside, where all you hear is the sound of the unseen crickets and your own footsteps on dry leaves; a magical place which has attracted and inspired so many great 19th and 20th century painters.

What makes the art of Alan Cotton so attractive and accessible is not only his enormous technical skill, but a unique sensitivity and perception; above all his own "inner eye". The Impressionist masters, we both admire, taught the world to see nature, not in a precise purely representational way, but as in a half remembered dream where the use of colour, light and atmosphere create a vision; of reality which so transcends mere talented draftsmanship.

Alan's chosen medium may be paint, yet I often think of him as a sculptor. With that same combination of vigour, confidence and strength, he uses his palette knife much like a sculptor might use a chisel. He literally carves the pigment onto the canvas so that the very texture of the picture creates its own tactile, even sensuous quality. Yet, when painting the petal of a wild flower, or the whisker on a head of corn, that palette knife can become the lightest and finest of brushes.

This new collection, the result of extensive travels in Italy, has all the qualities I found abundant in his Provencal pictures. The result, in my view, is a triumph, especially when you know something of their difficult gestation. Alan's original sketches, the product of weeks of work, were all lost. It was a disaster that would have demoralised many, but not my friend. At home in Devon he simply dusted the fine grained Tuscan earth off his shoes and returned to get them dusty again, retracing his steps in Chianti country, waiting in Venice for that same combination of light and shade that he had so carefully noted in his lost sketchbooks.

As you will discover, to your delight, the pictures he has created from those sketches are evocative of warm summer days in the sun baked hinterland of the Mediterranean, where the hard shadows of morning are made softer by the afternoon haze. These are paintings of vivid colour and skilful use of light created from a loving observation of nature and the ability to capture, and make permanent, a fleeting image.

Whether his perspective is dose to a gnarled, twisted grapevine, high on a hillside overlooking the regimental symmetry of a whole vineyard, or sitting beside a Venetian canal, this exhibition is the lasting record of an enjoyable journey. I was going to add that it is a pity he had to make that journey twice. But, of course, the contrary is true. He enjoyed both of them and here is the proof.

Hugh Scully