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David Rycroft: Some reflections on Espace & Luminosité

Published 21 April 2018

With David Rycroft’s upcoming solo show Espace & Luminosité fast approaching, we were curious to hear the inspiration behind his work. David's exhibition Espace & Luminosité runs from the 25th April till the 4th May – we hope that you can make it to the gallery! Please click here to see the full exhibition on our website.

Some reflections

It's often said that, whatever they are painting, artists paint themselves. In other words, everything is a sort of self-portrait. Or maybe an aspirational version of themselves and the principles they value in life.

I've plucked a few works by French masters I admire. From them, we can get a glimpse of their aspirations, and, maybe then insight into what my paintings are about. So here is a list of principles that inspire my life and work:

Freshness, Nobility, Spacious Glow, Vibrant Humanity and Harmony. 

Freshness

The first principle is Freshness. Here we need look no further than Monet. His en-plein-air freshness and luminosity is justifiably appealing. This is perhaps a criteria for a great work of art: It needs to satisfy immediately, and to a large public. We resonate with something about the direct, human presence of the artist. Very simply, we can relate to it. And also, with prolonged viewing, we continue to find the painting rich and rewarding; we feel that the artist understands something about human experience and they are able to share that - almost non-conceptually - through painting.

Claude Monet, 'The Hotel des Roches Noires, Trouville', 1870, 81 x 58 cm, oil on canvas, Musee D'Orsay, Paris

Claude Monet, 'The Hotel des Roches Noires, Trouville', 1870, 81 x 58 cm, oil on canvas, Musee D'Orsay, Paris

David Rycroft, 'La Coquille, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

David Rycroft, 'La Coquille, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

Nobility

The second principle is Nobility. It's not easy to embody nobility when you are out 'dancing' with the weather conditions and being asked - for the hundredth time - how long the painting has taken you. But nobility is, for me, one of the joys of the Classical Landscape tradition. I'm thinking of the majesty of Poussin’s monumental compositions. Sure, he is a bit high-brow and 'difficult', but I find there is such solemnity and presence in his compositions and technique and that seems to have a clarifying effect on my mind.

So in my own compositions, I try to find vistas that at least allude to the 'sacred formula' of Poussin's constructions - diagonal perspectives zig-zagging back, dark foregrounds often lit with a streak of sunlight, deep foliage framing the space, harmonious architecture in the distance to create space and magnetise the eye. And, of course, figures moving (slowly) about.

Nicolas Poussin, 'Landscape with the gathering of the Ashes of Phocion', 1648, 116.5 x 178.5 cm, oil on canvas, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Nicolas Poussin, 'Landscape with the gathering of the Ashes of Phocion', 1648, 116.5 x 178.5 cm, oil on canvas, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

David Rycroft, 'Arc de Triomphe, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

David Rycroft, 'Arc de Triomphe, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

Spacious Glow

The third principle, again from the Classical Landscape tradition, could be called Spacious Glow.

Turner, as we all know, capitalised on the efforts of Claude Lorrain. Yes, Lorrain seems a bit 'cheesy' from our perspective, but his ability to create atmosphere is impressive. He is a master of aerial perspective - objects get lighter and 'bluer' as they recede towards the horizon. This seems to make us more aware of the space, even more than the events taking place within that space. I love this principle of attending to the space between things and infusing it with luminosity.

Claude Lorrain, 'Seaport at Sunset', 1639, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris

Claude Lorrain, 'Seaport at Sunset', 1639, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris

David Rycroft, 'Place de la Comédie, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

David Rycroft, 'Place de la Comédie, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

Vibrant humanity

The forth principle is vibrant humanity. Vibrant because everyone expresses vitality and creativity - even in the way they hold their bag or wear their jacket. And humanity because despite our efforts at control we live amidst chaos. So art is orderly chaos. Or maybe the artist sees an order in chaos. Perhaps the artist - in this case myself - invites us to be comfortable in the midst of chaos or paradox.

All the paintings in the forthcoming Espace & Luminosite exhibition are populated with figures, often at leisure. It's these figures - the human touch - that, for me, bring these canvases to life. Of course, they are not really people, they are suggestive brushmarks. But it's fun to intuit a story, or invest them with some psychology. Here I look to Watteau. He was a genius. His ability to render figures with the a flickering network of brushmarks is sheer mastery. And on top of that, his wistfulness seems to be commenting on the ephemeral and dreamlike quality of these interactions.

Jean Antoine Watteau, 'Pilgrimage to Cythera', 1717, 129 x 194 cm, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris

Jean Antoine Watteau, 'Pilgrimage to Cythera', 1717, 129 x 194 cm, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris

David Rycroft, 'Place de la Comédie, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

David Rycroft, 'Place de la Comédie, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

Harmony

The fifth principle is Harmony. Here I am thinking about the structural marks of mature Cézanne - composed, reflective and full of vitality too. I can't remember much about studying Cezanne, but what strikes me now is his way of articulating space - formal, but also daring. It's like he created a whole language for representing the totality of 3-D experience on canvas.

He is famous for wanting to 'redo Poussin from nature'. This is definitely where I am coming from: finding harmony, balance and nobility in our own experience. On a bit of a tangent... all the canvases in this show are panoramic - very wide angle - almost 180 degrees. This raises major questions around 'distorting' how we transcribe what we see so that the image makes sense, and flows, on the canvas. It's in this area that David Hockney's work is amazing.

Cezanne, 'La Montage Sainte-Victoire vue de Montbriand', 1882-85, 65.5 x 81.7 cm, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Cezanne, 'La Montage Sainte-Victoire vue de Montbriand', 1882-85, 65.5 x 81.7 cm, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

David Rycroft, 'Place Saint-Roch, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

David Rycroft, 'Place Saint-Roch, Montpellier', 90 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, £5,500

I did also want to talk about the natural vitality and simplicity of Matisse, because, as a painter, he is a continuous source of inspiration. However, I don't think any of this present work really merits such comparisons. That will have to wait for future work.


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