PATRICK GEORGE 1923 – 2016
A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION
Saturday 26th November 12.00 – 2.00pm
THE MINORIES BALLROOM 74 High Street, Colchester, CO1 IUE
26th November – 3rd December 2016, 10.00 – 5.00pm (Closed Sunday)
INTRODUCING PATRICK GEORGE
There really should be no need to introduce Patrick George (1923-2016) to an art-loving public, but he remains surprisingly little-known in comparison to his contemporaries. Although associated with the School of London and such painters as RB Kitaj, Frank Auerbach, Euan Uglow and Michael Andrews, and occasionally exhibiting with them, George chose to keep a low profile in the art world. He devoted much of his life to teaching at the Slade, ending up as Professor there, and when not at college preferred to paint quietly in the Suffolk countryside rather than waste energy on self-promotion. In a long painting life (he began seriously to make pictures from the age of ten or eleven), he exhibited rarely and was over 50 before enjoying the first of only two museum surveys of his work, at Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury in 1975 (the second took place in 1980 at the Serpentine Gallery in London).
Patrick George is usually categorised as a landscape painter, and this exhibition contains examples of all periods of his work: drawings from his early years in London, paintings of his family home in the village of Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire, and, after his decisive move to East Anglia in 1961, the landscapes around Hickbush, a hamlet near Sudbury, and then the final years in Great Saxham, close to Bury St Edmunds. The Hickbush landscapes tend to open out into vistas of fields and trees, whereas quite a lot of the Great Saxham paintings are more closely-focused views of individual trees and passages of hedge or meadow. Sometimes the subject occupies the entire picture plane to the exclusion of the surrounding space, as in the delicately robust all-over brushy surfaces of Marguerites (2010) or Forget-me-nots (2013). These subjects are closer to still-life, a genre he tended to paint when in London or if the weather was too inclement even for one so dedicated to plein-air painting.
He also painted portraits, and this exhibition is distinguished by the inclusion of one of George’s finest portraits – of Hilary Lane. It is a night painting, and the reflected shine of electric light is plainly visible on the top of her head, zig-zagging like a ski-run down her rich brown hair.The extreme sensitivity and tenderness of this portrayal make it a speaking likeness, but also a triumph of painterly investigation. George is painting what he sees rather than what he knows (the colours and fragmentary nature of the image are not typical of traditional ‘realist’ painting), and this tendency to directness and experiment only became more pronounced as he grew older.
Long associated with the Euston Road School of observation and strict measurement as a means to achieve accurate representational painting, George began to measure less and less as the years passed, and to rely increasingly on intuition and a sense of what was right for the picture. In his final years he developed a marvellously spare form of painting, brave and radical in its simplicities and in what the artist was prepared to leave out.The white of the canvas became yet more important compositionally, and flickering brushstrokes set his subjects alight and in movement.There is still a sense of resolution to this Old Age style, but the boundaries shift and shimmer with unconquerable life. Consider the agitated interlacing of wind-blown boughs in The Way Through, the branches dramatically stropping the pale sky. The surrounding woodland is only schematically suggested – abstract blocks of modulated colour – yet it remains entirely convincing in this context.
There is a beguiling looseness and airiness to George’s handling in the late work, even in such a densely observed subject as Yellow, Red, Green and Blue. And notice the way the light penetrates the foliage and polishes the fruit in Apple Tree. But if it’s concentrated movement you want, then Rose Bush and Quince Tree looks more like a tornado or a spinning top than domesticated vegetation, yet the pictorial structure still holds and focuses the subject’s essence. Looking at these paintings, and indeed the whole conspectus of achievement summarised in this exhibition, it is clear that in Patrick George we have a major talent of Modern British Painting – and one who deserves to be properly recognised and celebrated.
Andrew Lambirth, September 2016
Patrick George was born in Manchester in 1923. His artistic awakening was largely due to Maurice Feild, the inspirational art teacher at his preparatory school, The Downs, in Herefordshire. His next school was Bryanston, where Lucien Freud was a fellow pupil and with whom he formed an oil painting club. By then he knew that he wanted to become a painter.
He began his art training with a scholarship to Edinburgh School of Art, before serving with distinction in the Royal Navy in the Second World War. He continued his art school training at Camberwell School of Art. In 1949, at the invitation of William Coldstream, he joined the Slade School of Fine Art where he taught for many years, becoming Slade Professor-Director from 1985-1988.
The quality and range of his work over six decades was recently highlighted in Andrew Lambirth’s monograph, Patrick George, published in 2014.