What hit me recently where pictures by George Rowlett.
Born in Scotland in 1941, he attended Grimsby School of Art and then both Camberwell and the Royal Academy Schools. He was taught by Frank Auerbach and Euan Uglow who famously painted a nude portrait of a young Cherie Blair, but his earliest influence was Van Gogh, and it still shows. The way the paint has been moulded on the picture surface is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s restless brushwork. The association is most obvious in Rowlett’s flower paintings, but it’s also there in his series of Canaletto’s Views of Greenwich, where sky, buildings and river flow into each other in swirls and ripples, reflecting and echoing each other.
Canaletto’s ” Views of Greenwich”
George Rowlett’s “Views of the River”
Rowlett applies paint with what looks like a wallpaper scraper, as well as his hands, and yet he is able to achieve great delicacy using tiny flicks and filigree strands. There is minutely observed detail: a stalk of straw or the curled edge of a poppy seems as fragile and beautiful as the original in nature. And the presence of insects and bits of vegetation embedded in the paint surface are a reminder of his dedication to painting from, and within, the landscape.
Rowlett says that he finds; “The fall of light from the sky is just one of the most glorious things. A daily gift.” In his Greenwich paintings, differences in light and weather conditions are palpable. The rise and fall of the river, the passage of clouds and sunlight, the squally interventions of wind and rain are acutely rendered in skillful variegations of colour and texture. Seldom deterred by the weather, he sets out most days on an ancient bicycle, laden with wood panels, tools, palette and 12-and-a-half litres of paint—just white and the three primaries. He responds to the place and the conditions as they evolve around him, and describes his paintings as “layers of experience,” some conscious, others accidental.
Like that other English landscape specialist David Tress, Rowlett’s work is as much a physical experience as it is a representation.
It would be a rare treat to enjoy the work of these two great, original interpreters of the British landscape side by side.