Paintings from Provence


An Exhibition of Paintings from Provence
22nd September to 8th October 1988

Foreword by Kevin Crooks

I remember my first visit to an Art Gallery, It was a Sunday and I walked from Chelsea to Millbank through cool empty streets my feet ringing on the pavement. I rounded the front of the Tate and was surprised to find a crowd. Groups of chattering excited people lined the steps. There was talk of the Louvre and MOMA, artists names were aimed and fired, form and structure rattled like buckshot in the lime trees. At fifteen, confidence rarely follows doubt. Thrust into this reservoir of artistic knowhow, I hadn't the faintest idea of how to conduct myself. How do you look at paintings?

For years I've wondered why I hadn't seen the answer straightaway, perhaps it was too simple, too unsophisticated for someone on the threshold of exposure. The artist dictates and the viewers mind flows into the image; either at the centre of the experience or drawn to some emotive expression elsewhere.

Looking at Alan Cotton's work, my first experience of this came with a painting of Hartland Point. On this wild stretch of North Devon coast the Atlantic, unencumbered for thousands of miles, rolls into five hundred foot cliffs spending its energy in a display of fury. To me, the images were familiar yet as I examined the picture I knew I was standing at the focal point of my own emotions.

Within sight of the meandering river Otter is the tiny Devon village of Colaton Raleigh. Barely above the flood plane and tucked neatly to one side of a hill, the village has always seemed to me the archetype of English rural pleasure. From Alan's studio window there is an arc of countryside that seems to embody the stereotypes of the county whilst at the same time presenting an air of mystery that changes with the seasons. Capturing these ambivalent moods on canvas he has walked the banks of the Oxbow returning many times to the red sandstone cut or a particular tree and laying his dreams with a painting knife in rich shards of pigment.

The constant painting and drawing of a subject brings with it a deeper understanding of its nature. The landscape that courses through Alan's paintings is wrought from basic emotions and tempered with knowledge. Provence in high summer is a world away from Devon and yet the plains, valleys and hilltop towns of this unique French countryside fall naturally under his painting knife, I view these latest pictures with the longing of expected intimacy. I have never visited the high stacked town of Gordes but as I watched the picture unravel from Alan's mind and present itself on canvas, I knew I had been there; a mycella from the essence of the place had reached out and touched me.

I first met Alan Cotton in the spring of nineteen seventy six. Overebullient and slightly flippant. I loaded my conversation with casual observation and tired jokes. This tendency toward displacement behaviour, which I have never quite mastered, has often led me into pits from which I am very lucky to have escaped. Once asked by Alan to make a few opening remarks at an exhibition, I fell headlong into my own mouth as an awful and inappropriate pun rolled across the floor. In the crushing silence that followed, I was admonished by Alan's willing laugh. This understanding nature rescued our relationship and later that year amid the soft rain of an English summer, together we made a film of his work.

On the workbench at Brockhill Studio is the conglomerate mound of paint, brushes and knives that are the stuff of an artist's existence. On some areas of the table are the fossilised remains of earlier encounters, here and there fresh paint skins over and congeals as it too becomes distanced from a finished canvas. The painting knives remain keen and bright, not often the chosen tool of the painter but in this case essential to express the heavy impasto that characterises the tactile surface of Alan's work,

I was keen to measure my own response to his work and incorporate my feelings in the film There were, it seemed, three levels of perception. Close up there was the surface. It made you ache to run your fingers across it; explore its diversity, lose yourself amongst a hundred planes and angles, A short distance away there was the relationship of the colours and then, a step or two away, the emotion was complete and the totality of the picture emerged.

For most of my life. I have been concerned with the visual imagery of moving pictures; tracing out paths along which the imagination can travel. When a film is finished it has become finite, precisely the same on every repeat showing. It is not so with paintings.

Kevin Crooks
Arts director of TSW