Author follows Cotton's career On A Knife Edge

Brian Stewart reviews a new book on the artist Alan Cotton by Brian Stewart, Director of Falmouth Art Gallery

David Messum Fine Art has gained a reputation for picking the very best of Britain's contemporary painters. One of the most notable of these is Alan Cotton, who has had a number of sell-out shows with the gallery.

Now at last there is an excellent book on the artist written by Jenny Pery, author of monographs on Solomon J Solomon, John Dodgson, Claude Rogers and Edward Piper.

Her latest book, entitled Alan Cotton -On A Knife Edge, is lavishly illustrated with a wide range of Alan's sumptuous oils.
On A Knife Edge presents a richly illustrated survey of Cotton's career, from his early years in the industrial Midlands to his present life centred on his home and studio in rural Devon. It tells the story of a boy whose passion for painting apparently came out of the blue, and whose optimistic, buccaneering approach to life enabled him to pursue his dream.

The book charts his development as a painter from student experiment to mature style, culminating in the use of rich impasto pigments laid into canvas with a palette knife. It follows him on his travels in France, Italy, Cyprus, Ireland and Morocco, and explores the painterly challenges that he encountered in each new location. It shows him developing into a gifted teacher, a skilful communicator, and an extremely successful artist.

Alan was born in Redditch, Worcestershire, the third of four children. His father, William, had left school at 11 to become a plough driver. He was often out of work and money was always a problem.

From early childhood Alan was industrious. He did a morning paper round, worked on a milk float and ran all sorts of errands. From an early age he painted. His mother made brushes for him out of her own hair tied to a stick.

The book reproduces a very fine and sensitive drawing of the artist's mother, made when he was 17. Already at this age he was not only a master of line, but also of space between the lines. However, a focus on line was not the direction his art would take.
Encouraged by a meeting with the art critic John Berger, who saw one of his earliest productions in palette knife, he took the critic's advice: "You have a feel for paint. And I think the knife is the way for you to go."

He rarely uses the flatter type of knife, preferring the range and flexibility of the trowel shaped painting knifes.
Although developing a style uniquely his own, a clear debt to Van Gogh can be seen. A balanced tension is created between a sense of place and the joy of paint.

The book is beautifully written and designed and offers a wide-ranging retrospective of Cotton's work with telling illustrations of seminal paintings to highlight important moments in his career. It is a fitting tribute to a great artist.

Alan Cotton - On A Knife Edge by Jenny Perry is published by Halsgrove, Halsgrove House, Lower Moor Way, Tiverton EX16 6SS. Tel: 01884 243242. Fax: 01884 243325. ISBN 1 84114 3197. Price £29.95.