THE GREAT HUNT
PUBLISHED: 13:48 16 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:07 30 August 2017
Cornish painter Matthew Lanyon’s exhibition at St Ives’ Porthminster Gallery reflects a year at work
Matthew Lanyon’s solo exhibition at St Ives’ reflects a year at work, and sitting stacked in his Penzance studio ready for the complex job of curation, the work is a visual feast for his few visitors. Work fills every space, with one painting, destined for display vertically on the gallery floor
His work combines landscape, figure and mythology and he works on board, paper or canvas utilising print, acrylic, gold leaf and oil paints, Matthew works across his canvases, scrapping back as far has he dares’ when needed to begin again. Each piece begins with drawings up to a point,’ he says. “The original image is still there from the drawing,”
This year’s work began, he says, on hearing the news of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship which went down on 13 January 2012 with the loss of 32 lives.
The resulting Tipping Point’ is a large work, measuring 22ft across, and has an intriguing element of storytelling within its surface; a repetitive print at its central womb-like area suggests confinement, while his regular motif, the architectural caryatids – carved women more often found holding up lintels on buildings – in this appear to hold the top and bottom of the canvas apart to allow us a glimpse into this invisible world beneath the sea. The sensation is not one of despair, despite its starting point, but it also feels fleeting as the caryatids may let go at any time.
“It isn’t just about a shipwreck,” he says of the work. “It’s not pat, it’s not trying to do something for everyone.”
Born in St Ives in 1951, son of Peter Lanyon, the landscape painter who became a major figure in the post-war art world, Matthew was discouraged from a career in art and travelled the world, studied geology at Leicester University, and worked in the building trade for many years before returning to Cornwall in 1985, where he began working as an artist with his first shows in Cornwall in the 1990s. Now his work is exhibited at galleries all over the UK and his work is highly sought after.
“I spend 12 months not speaking to anybody,” he says of his process that has become so important to him in maintaining integrity to his work and avoiding the pleaser’ element that can come with being a successful artist with collectors wanting to see work throughout the year.
“I work for a year and I have a solo exhibition every year,” he says. “My working year comes to an end, and I am able to draw a line. I have a break and then on to the next year’s work – and I have no idea what that will be. The process is an exciting one.
“The most exciting thing that has happened so far with the few visitors that have been in here, is that people don’t see what I see, people make new connections between the work.”
His only deadline is that of a solo show every year – which this year takes place at the Porthminster Gallery, where gallery director David Durham has been showing his work for a decade.
“I felt on a precipice the first time I saw his work and that feeling has never left me,” he says.