The joys of George Rowlett’s work and the mysterious case of the menacing fell runners

George Rowlett catalogues

catalogues at rest

My George Rowlett catalogues are here and I have already spent quite a bit of time looking through them. I only discovered this superb painter relatively recently, although I have now realised he has been exhibiting his work since the 1980s. I also had no idea that he was taught by the renowned British painters Auerbach and Uglow. Maybe that explains some of my attraction to Rowlett’s work, because Auerbach was taught by David Bomberg, one of my heroes. So, there is a direct thread running from Bomberg through Auerbach to Rowlett.

I admire Frank Auerbach’s work, which can be seen here but Rowlett’s work appeals as much if not more because it seems to be more about colour. I have not seen any of Auerbach’s more colourful work for real, however, having only looked at pictures in books and, looking at the page I linked to, I do like that painting of Camden Palace.

Rowlett’s paintings are wonderful, thick, sumptuous arrangements of paint on board while at the same time being incredibly clever, accurate and skilful representations of a real scene. All paintings are arrangements of paint on a surface but with Rowlett’s work it is easy to see the pictures ‘just’ as paint and enjoy them in the way that someone who gets excited about big thick colourful strokes of glistening pigment likes to do, while another bit of the brain appreciates just how much like life they are, in much more than a sterile, copying kind of way. The drawing in the paintings seems very true when you stand back and look at them in a structural way, so they are in no way casually done, and there is also real feeling in there, of gusto and glad-to-be-aliveness.

I don’t think that copyright law allows me to show images of Rowlett’s paintings here but I think it is probably OK to share how the catalogues look waiting patiently on my table. Rowlett’s pictures can be easily viewed on the website of his gallery. There is more than one page about the painter himself, but the main one is here and if you scroll down to find the link to his 2011 exhibition and open it there are a couple of videos there showing his painting process.

I was fairly staggered to find out that Rowlett only paints with what look like big trowels and huge pots of paint in the three primary colours plus white. How does he get that feeling of abundant colour into his work? I have read that he adds the occasional extra tube, such as Alizarin Crimson, but – even so – to end up with such a wonderful riot of hues working with just red, blue and yellow seems almost impossible. When I go out with a limited palette the results tend to look quite harmonious but rather – well – limited.

oil painting of head, 9"x12"

thoughtful head seen from the front, oil on canvas, 9″x12″

Back at the drawing board, my adventures in self-portraiture have continued this week with a strangely jolly effort with daubs of paint, a thoughtful front-on view and an oddly severe kind of modernist attempt that I quite like because it feels more like the inner me!

oil painting of punkish head, oil on 6"x8" canvas

head, three-quarter view with a slightly punk feel, oil on canvas, 6″x8″

I ventured out of doors a few days ago to paint in the remotest spot I could find as the light was fading and the cold air drawing in. On reaching the critical part of my painting I saw a stream of runners appear, racing down the almost vertical valley wall and seemingly zeroing in on me. With increasing amazement I wondered why they were aiming for the one path, out of the many they could have chosen, that I happened to be sitting on. They approached at full speed without deviating, quickly becoming recognisable as pupils from the local private school led by a man all in black.

oil painting of head, slightly modernist, 6"x8" on canvas

head with a modernist feel, three-quarter view, oil on canvas, 6″x8″

When they were close enough that I could see the whites of their eyes I decided to abandon my painting spot, throwing my brushes and equipment into the bracken so that I could scramble off the path. At the last moment their leader moved away from me to take an alternative path (unfortunately by then it was too late for the painting – my brushes all in disarray in the undergrowth, the light changing fast) calling out a cheery and frankly rather blasé “Sorry to have spoiled your peace”, as if I had just been sitting doing nothing in particular on that track at the bottom of a remote valley (and even if I had, it would have been nice to be able to carry on).

A few seconds later, as the stragglers who didn’t bother to deviate thundered over the spot where I’d been sitting, peering nosily at my painting kit as if I was some kind of mildly diverting sideshow, I wondered what, if any, are the rights of plein air painters? And, having just written the story down, it does sound rather like I dreamed the whole thing.

One thought on “The joys of George Rowlett’s work and the mysterious case of the menacing fell runners

  1. Andi Chapple

    I hope people go and look at George’s paintings as they are well worth it. I find I can’t see the drawing hidden among all that paint unless I squint at the paintings. it’s a bit like Captain Beefheart’s songs – to begin with you just hear brightly-coloured and strangely-organised sounds but if you squint a bit with your ears – blimey! it’s music!

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