Research Point: Historic and contemporary artists who work in series with the landscape: Peter Lanyon,

“The green field for me is the essential reality”  Peter Lanyon, 1959.

Coast 1953 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Coast, 1953, Peter Lanyon

Lanyon’s ‘green field’ was not a landscape to look out at, it was not simply the scenic backdrop to his native Cornwall. What mattered to Lanyon was the history of the land and its relationship with the people that lived on it and off it.

(Lanyon was from a mining family, but in Cornwall this industry was in steep decline as Lanyon returned from the Second World War – service industries were taking over – and for Cornwall that meant tourism and retirement.)

Headland 1948 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Headland, 1948, Peter Lanyon

Lanyon’s works move me. My birth certificate declares land-locked Surrey but my heart has always been in Cornwall and in particular Lanyon’s western Cornwall. His works don’t sit with the picturesque paintings of wobbly villages, winding lanes and blustery clifftops.

When I look at Lanyon’s drawings or paintings I feel he has taken his hand and plunged it deep in to the soil, he has felt the structure of the rocks under Cornwall  – where it has broken, where it has come together – he has traced his fingers along the scars that mining has left, felt the rusting metal. All this and the contours of the land we see, the forces of the winds. He’s taken all this that he has felt with his hand, and put it on to a flat surface. It’s exhilarating.

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Portreath, 1949, Peter Lanyon (photograph from book)

Porthleven 1951 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964

Porthleven, 1951, Peter Lanyon

Lanyon is maybe best known for his glider paintings. He had always explored Cornwall so as to see it from all possible angles. He travelled it on foot, motorbike, by car. He rock-climbed and was fascinated with the cliff edges – where two elements met – and also by man’s fragile existence within the landscape. He began gliding to see the land even more completely, striving to capture with paint the land below and the air above and how it was to be in that place.

Reading List

Causey, A. (2006) Peter Lanyon: Modernism and the land. London: Reaktion books

Images via Tate.org.uk

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