Drawings into Paintings

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Foreword by Patricia Cotton

Alan was drawing long before I met him, even from a very young child. Since our early days together, I have accompanied him on most of his travels, always doing the driving so that he can take time to look around – without landing us in a ditch! Most of our country walks have been with a sketchbook under his arm and when packing for holidays a drawing book is always the first thing in the case.

Alan says, “At art school, no one ever explained that the purpose of drawing is a process, to enable you to construct, to select or to eliminate. For me it is a vital part of the painting. In landscape you absorb the moment - the whole ambience of a place and try to capture it on paper. As I draw I am looking towards the finished painting, selecting what I will include and what I will leave out”.

The locations very much affect the way in which Alan draws. On the West Coast of Ireland we are forever chasing the light. We will see the sun catching a distant mountain or piece of coastline and go for it, trying to arrive before the light has gone. Often it has, so we will make a note to be there earlier the following day. Sometimes we are lucky and Alan will draw frenetically before the light has disappeared.

In Connemara or Co Kerry he will often start a drawing in brilliant sunlight and then the storm clouds roll in from the Atlantic and he will finish it with rain spattering the pages. These are just quick ‘aide memoirs’, annotated with colour notes. This is true of our trips to Scotland, where sometimes there is no light at all, as happened for most of the time on a recent trip to the Isle of Skye.

At Hartland, in North Devon, which is just an hour away, we choose days when we know there is going to be both sunshine and clouds, as it is the contrast of light and shade on the sea, the rocky outcrops and cliff-face that excites Alan to draw. Even on a fine day Hartland can still be a wild and windy place and I have often watched, heart in mouth, as he gets far too close to the cliff edge, to find the composition he wants to draw.

In Provence, Tuscany and Piemonte, however, we will sit late into the evening and Alan will spend hours, developing his work into detailed finished drawings and watercolours.

He says, “It isn’t just about the landscape. It’s also about feeling the sun on your back or the wind in your hair, the sounds and smells around you. When I am painting back in my studio, all these are evoked by the drawing from which I am working. This is all part of what goes into the painting”.

I have memories of sitting with Alan in Caterina’s Vineyard in the Langhe, in Northern Italy, when the sun, low in the sky, illuminated the autumn vines, so they became like a mosaic of stained glass. Many of these drawings are dotted with colour notes and from these come the abundance of glowing vineyards in his Piemonte paintings.

Alan has dozens of drawing books, full of hundreds of drawings, watercolours and pastels, from his many travels around the world. They are his source material for all the oil paintings completed back in his Devon studio. He has always in the past been reluctant to sell his drawings and watercolours completed on the spot. At his Retrospective Exhibitions at the University of Bath and the Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery in Exeter, however, he included a gallery of framed drawings to show the starting points for his work. None of these were for sale, but they aroused such interest and talking points about the process of arriving at the finished paintings, that Alan, in conjunction with David Messum, felt that works on paper, with many of the paintings resulting from them, would make a fascinating and very informative exhibition of his work.

Patricia Cotton