Recent Paintings from Provence, Tuscany, Cyprus and Venice
14th and 15th November, 1992
Foreword by Peter Brimacombe
One of my more memorable moments last year was standing on a terrace in Lacoste with Alan Cotton, looking down across the early morning valley, contemplating a much cherished landscape through the artist's eye. This is essential Cotton country, a mere fragment of Provence, a small area of vineyards, poppy fields and cherry orchards stretched out in the sunshine between the medieval hill towns of Bonnieux, Gordes and Roussillon. Alan does stray elsewhere in the region, sometimes even further afield, to Tuscany, Venice and Cyprus, yet inevitably it is to this quiet corner of the Luberon that he is drawn back just as irresistably as Cezanne was to his beloved Mont St. Victoire. It is easy to understand, for this is countryside of infinite change and variation of mood, according to light, time of day or season, location or viewpoint. To try to portray or understand it's essentials is to undertake a never ending task, one that Alan shows not even the slightest inclination of wanting to conclude!
His is a passionate yet precise commitment that goes way beyond a mere romantic love of evocative scenery so highly seductive to those of us from a cold climate. The true Provence needs to be studied with care, with patience, analysed, discussed, dissected, every nuance observed and considered. Indeed to me, Alan appears to be more influenced by the philosophers of art such as John Berger, than by other painters. So though the shadow of Cezanne and Van Gogh might lie heavily across the landscape of the Midi and their influence may well indeed have first drawn him to the area whilst still a student, this great pair of Post-Impressionists pose no distraction or inhibition, merely a stepping stone for Alan to make his own distinctive mark. This insight is in itself an essential departure point in beginning to appreciate Alan's work and understand his undoubted success as an artist.
At the outset Alan's paintings are very accessible. Those who are bemused by Abstract Expressionism, bothered by Hard Edge or bewildered by matters Minimalist will easily embrace the user friendly nature of an Alan Cotton, drawn in by the highly appealing subject matter, executed in such vibrant colour and voluptuous paintwork, carried out with such technical elan. It is exuberant, optimistic, inspiring, calculated to put a smile on the viewer's face, particularly when seen in the cold light of endless English winter. Yet beneath this sensual surface lie more important things, to be peeled off layer by layer, discerned in different ways according to individual perception, considered from alternative viewpoints, just as the original landscape itself.
For myself, an intriguing aspect of Alan's art lies in his sheer application of paint, a product of his essential technique and continuous usage of painting knife. The forms and rhythms thus created become subjects of compelling interest in their own right, reminiscent of de Stael, whereupon the medium does indeed become very much the message. All this is further enhanced by Alan's proficiency in what he terms 'scumberling'. Whilst there may be no such word in the English dictionary, it is nevertheless a highly effective way to describe the dragging, scraping and rubbing of canvas that results in such unusual and intriguing textures and distinctive paint surfaces. It is precisely Alan's highly personal language of painting that transcends mere skilful and pleasing portrayal of Provence and introduces the onlooker to the true fascination of his creative process.
All of this is a very far cry from the olive groves of Southern France and the long lines of vines stretched to distant smudgy horizons, nevertheless, it is a huge pleasure to stroll around this exhibition and see Alan's paintings glowing off the wall, just as it was a privilege to have been with him at the time of their creation, bringing light and colour into a world that seems all too often merely uniform shades of grey.
Peter Brimacombe is currently working on a book about Alan's work in Provence