Thursday, January 27, 2005

This digital image was made from a photograph of a 2005 calendar published by Hawksworth Graphic and Print Ltd. The calendar was one of the most appreciated gifts I received at Christmas - it is now hanging on my studio wall and is a delight and inspiration. The illustrations are by Leonard Squirrel RWS, RE. who has long been one of my favourite watercolourists. He taught etching and engraving at the Ipswich School of Art and exhibited at the Royal Academy for around 50 years. He was born in 1893 yet he was not elected a full member of the RWS until 1941 – a surprising fact which shows how persistent and determined you have to be to progress in the art world.

He belonged to a generation which produced fine landscape painters like Jack Merriott, Stanley Buckle, and Stanley Badmin. They never get a mention in the scholarly art history books and rarely feature in exhibitions in public galleries - yet they were all very prolific artists making a living from commissions and sales of their work.One of the best ways to become familiar with their work is to look at Greg Norman’s book ‘Landscape Under the Luggage Rack.’

The illustration shows a watercolour ‘The Street, Kersey, Suffolk’ painted in 1960. It is a fine example of a class of English watercolour which use controlled washes over a fine drawing. The detail reveals the method but it is hard to decide if the tiles are drawn with a pen or a fine brush superimposed on the wash or beneath it. The choice of instrument and order of application is a matter of the artist’s preference. Jack Merriott advocated the use of a brush drawing in Indian ink with superimposed washes of colour.

Interest in the work of these artists declined as amateur artists engaged with the looser style of Seago and Wesson. Although both artists developed a loose understated method of working this was underpinned by close observation. Wesson in particular could draw well and it is fatal to try and imitate their style if you can’t. So many of the Wesson ‘look alikes’ in amateur exhibitions suffer from a badly drawn beginning.

I meet artists who are excited by the concept of developing new ways of using watercolour - extending its boundaries. Then I often recall a comment by Milan Kundera which I once read. He questioned whether 'the never before expressed is always ahead of us – may it not be found from something which has gone before and has been overlooked?' Artists like Leonard Squirrel tend to be overlooked but there is much in their work which can be rediscovered.

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