Recent Paintings from Cyprus, Provence, Tuscany and Venice
21st March to 6th April 1991
Foreword by Tom Salmon
I first met Alan Cotton as Spring turned to Summer in 1976, in the studio that's been his home ever since, in a lush and gentle Devonshire landscape. All buttercupped and creamy and fat the land was, there was a little river nearby, and the place was called Colaton Raleigh, as I drove into it I thought my motor car quite out of place.
I was then the manager of the BBC's most southwesterly television station, and one of the roles I embraced most pleasurably was to assess subjects which I thought would lead to films that the young and talented producers on my staff would enjoy making, and our viewers enjoy watching.
Up until the early seventies, the regional stations of the BBC were much restricted to the coverage of news, but then we were given budgets which enabled us, in a fairly modest fashion, to make features, and I early resolved that a reflection of the arts should be an essential ingredient in an area so rich in them.
We'd already done programmes about Alfred Wallis, that naive Cornish painter, who while living at sea-level, painted on bits of board with a seagull's-eye sight; and on Jack Pender, who saw Mousehole and Newlyn in a similar but fresh pattern; and on Charles Causley, whose poems transcended even his adoration of Cornwall; and on A.L. Rowse, poet too, but the finest of our Elizabethan scholars. The field I ploughed was an enormously rich one.
And then I heard of the work being done by this modest artist in Devon, and I thought I'd like to meet him. (In the event, the film was made, and proved to be the first of many subsequent television and radio programmes which have paid tribute to the artistry of Alan Cotton). However. . .
There I was, on this lovely sunny day at the door of his studio - and when I went inside, it was as if the whole of the day had changed. Outside, all was plump and grassy and meadow-like, but inside, there was another landscape entirely. One that I thought I knew well, but after seeing his interpretation of it, I realised that I hadn't known at all. The cliffs of Hartland heaving against the Atlantic that beats against them all laid out before me in vivid, knife-slashing, thick paint. All slatey grey and dangerous. I saw a much deeper insight than mine, and even then, I think, I felt the impressionistic sense that's at the root of all Alan Cotton's work. I saw Truth; and truth is much more than photographic. . .
Since then I have followed his development, and it pleases me that he has come out into the sun; it really does suit him. Those gnarled olive orchards and blossoms in Provence and the stretching of vineyards to faraway villages and the hot yellows over peasant landscapes. And then there was Venice and the slightest of greys over the Lagoon and the early quiet of the Fish Market. And Tuscany too, all terra-cotta colours, lazy and vibrant.
Once upon a time Alan said to me 'You must follow your heart in painting', and that's what he's ever done, setting up his easel in places he enjoys, and, while enjoying, illuminating. . .
The sun shines much on all his latest work, and this delights me; but I am still of the mind that the heat of the artist comes from within and it never ceases to burnish all that Alan does.
Tom Salmon the distinguished Cornish writer and broadcaster, was formerly Head of BBC Television South West