Cotton on Canvas
Annual Exhibition and Recent Paintings
Wednesday 28th September to Saturday 15th October 1994
Foreword by John Prescott Thomas
I can't remember exactly where and when I first met Alan Cotton; but I do know that it was somewhere in the West Country - and that it was a blessedly positive encounter.
I can't even remember whether it was television or the arts in the South West, or both, which brought us together. But the catalyst for the chemistry must have been something in the formula of the Exeter and Devon Arts Centre, where Alan was on the Board, where Westcountry Television was about to set up the first of its seven local studios - and which I already knew from my own work with South West Arts.
Westcountry was then very much in its infancy - a child whose gestation had been long delayed and whose early steps were therefore more than a touch ungainly. There were some unkind souls who took a knowing delight in the new-born's wobbles. Alan was not of their number. He was one of the first to see what we were getting at, how we were trying to develop a new approach to our region and to 'regionality'. He became an early champion at a time when it was not at all fashionable. Needless to say, that endeared him to me greatly. He became one of the first real friends I made in my new home country.
At other times and in other places, I'd been involved in the production of television programmes which tried to make art and design, the concepts and the processes, accessible to children and young people. As we exchanged experiences, I found in Alan one of those most unusual artists who does not only express himself (and gloriously) in paint - but who can also articulate in words, passionately but unpretentiously, just what it is which captures his vision and his imagination, what it is that drives him and how, in technical terms, he sets about conveying what he has seen and what he has thought. This is, I can tell you truly, a rare gift. Alan really can communicate accessibly how and why painters are not just very slow photographers.
Listening to him in his studio as he took me through the stages of development of one of his Provence landscapes, I found myself becoming increasingly intrigued by and involved in the work of this artist who used a knife one minute to lay down a slab of vivid colour, the next to suggest the most delicate of feathery grasses. Above all, 1 was fascinated by his perception of the play of light on a landscape. And so, inevitably, I purchased my first Alan Cotton painting.
It's one of his Provence landscapes in evening light. Close to, the impasto has an almost grid-like, abstract intensity; stand back and the very simplicity of the blocks and stripes of paint becomes an immensely subtle conveying of light and shade. Of all my possessions, it is the one which gives me the most satisfying delight. (Along with my ancient Citroën traction avant — an admission which a rather elegant, Porsche-driving, francophile painter might perhaps forgive.)
It is, however, a small painting. Early Evening on the Tamar is a large painting, commissioned from Alan to mark the opening of Westcountry Television's new headquarters in Plymouth and unveiled by the Rt. Hon. Peter Brooke MP, Secretary of State for the National Heritage, on 16 April, 1993. It's a work which Alan and I spent much enjoyable and productive time discussing and developing: a strongly backlit scene of great graphic force, in which Brunel's astonishing bridge marches across the gleaming river to link the two counties which are at the soul of our region.
Since then, Alan has been working on a series of programmes for Westcountry which try to capture the way in which this remarkable man interprets the visual world, at home and abroad, with such verve and enthusiasm. Since most of the words are his own, they will surely be as telling as the paintings - many of which are featured in this book.
John Prescott Thomas,