Hartland, Ireland, Piemonte & Provence
Wednesday 15th September to
Saturday 2nd October 2010
Foreword by John C. Struthers
Visiting Alan Cotton
There is a sense of calm powerful silence that surrounds you when you enter Alan Cotton's studio in Devon. His new exhibition is nearly complete, the works of all sizes are arranged around the space in a seemingly haphazard way for this initial view, but already the power of the paintings evokes their setting in Ireland. The sunny weather outside is forgotten as Alan shows you around explaining the mood, talking about the frustration he felt when the weather was not working as he wished. He describes the excitement when a shaft of light suddenly illuminates a wall or cliff and inspires him to make a start on a sketch that over time would produce a landscape that captures a moment in time, in an environment that makes humanity seem small and of little consequence.
Alan Cotton has long been recognised as a landscape painter of national importance, but this description fails to consider his other talents. He is an educator passionate about art, knowledgeable and delighted to share his knowledge, not because he needs or wants to be impressive but because he cares about his medium. Alan Cotton the communicator needs to explain the moods his paintings evoke, he wants you to understand his process. His passion is infectious not just when describing his own work but when talking about the work of others, The same care is given to his subjects, Alan does not just visit a place and paint, he tries to understand, to get under the skin of the locals, to cast a stranger's eye, an artist's eye, on the scenery the light the dark and the shade.
Talking to Alan about his paintings, his passion for the light and his ability to paint the weather is by turns fascinating and inspirational. He is 'turned on' by pigment he is fascinated by colour and texture. Moving from painting to painting you can watch the mood change; a subtle difference in light, a different texture that makes one certain that a moment before, it had been pouring with rain. We look at another larger work and take a moment to consider that the coastal edge that we see depicted is the last vestige of land before the continent of America. The power of the sea, the extraordinary sky, the sculptural quality of the paint, the mood that is created is one of drama; theatrical not only in the sense that you have to continue viewing but that you also need to understand the back story the moment before the one you are viewing.
Alan shows me the knives he works with, how he blends and works the paint to show the flashes of light, how he discovers the colour that is right, the one that he knows will work. We talk about some school children that had visited the studio. He had encouraged them to squeeze some paint onto a palette, tiny amounts were squeezed. They were encouraged to squeeze more; they did, colours were mixed, they laughed and they got it. They got the power of the paint. They understood about the qualities of mark that can be made with a knife; the precious knife, that extension of the brain that turns a landscape into a place where generations have lived and struggled. I have seen and loved Alan's work for more than 20 years. His exhibitions are renowned for that elusive mix of both quality and popularity. This exhibition shows an artist at the top of his game: it is confident and captivating. Alan Cotton may well be 'turned on' by pigment, he is definitely profligate with paint but the works here are amongst his very best,
John C. Struthers, University of Bath, Director of ICIA
(Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts)