Landscape No 624 1999-2000 by John Virtue born 1947
Landscape No 624 1999-2000 John Virtue born 1947 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 2002

John Virtue []

  • “Virtue creates expressive marks and luminous passages of negative space
  • ““Virtue’s blacks and whites aren’t polarised absolutes: they drip and smear each other with gleeful impurity, much of the white flecked with a kind of metropolitan ashiness that gives the paint guts and substance, much of the black, streaky and loose, like road tar that refuses to set,””
    • J.M.W. Turner
    • Abstract Expressionists, particularly Franz Kline


Interview: John Virtue [] by Mark Sheerin

(John Virtue: The Sea is at Towner Gallery, Eastbourne until April 11 2015. Interview written for Culture24.)

  • takes inspiration from and focuses on the sea as a subject
  • makes hundreds of sketches of the sea – observing it during movement
    • similar to Sugimoto and Dean – all three have been inspired to observe and capture the sea – picking up its different aspects but ultimately similar intentions – revealing its essence
  • “each work represents the most fleeting of moments, as waves break quicker than the hand can sketch”
  • [referring to his Towner exhibition] “Three of the paintings here are almost six and a half metres long”
    • large scale paintings – significance in relation to the subject of the work? – engaging
  • “monumental works add up to a pretty overwhelming visual experience”
    • the size alongside the monochrome palette combine to create an overwhelming visual experience for the viewer
    • quite emotive and encapsulating
    • psychologically the viewer is very likely to be attracted by emotive and ‘living’ brushstrokes
      • there isn’t necessarily a need to evaluate and analyse the painting – it projects an automatic reaction onto us – meaning that we are automatically affected by the ‘moving’ visual elements
  • “Sisyphean process” – SISYPHEAN PROCESS
    • he describes his process of creating art as Sisyphean
    • which means endlessly laborious
      • an ongoing process that becomes tiring and demotivating with time
        • I have realised that this element is part of my process as well – the more layers I put down, the less exciting it feels because I am drawing and redrawing the same place over and over again, potentially risking the overall aesthetic of the image with every layer I draw and brush away – it is a monotonic task
  • [Virtue on the nature of waves and water] ““It changes faster than you speak. It changes all the time, not just from day to day but from second to second.””
    • rapidness
    • alive
    • constant movement
    • shifting and morphing
    • similar to the way I envision how thoughts live within our minds
      • perhaps a thought is like a particle – the moving and unrigid particles move around creating a liquid form – thoughts come together through individual particles that transport and pass information to the whole unit – or make a path of energy transportation
  • ““It’s that quality of nothing and everything that’s so enthralling. It’s mesmeric,” he says.”
  • Virtue also mentioned that movement in creating his artwork is quite key and that his artistic influences – like Pollock and Kline – have used this aspect in their work – it forms an essential element of the work itself – and if the scale was smaller the effect wouldn’t be close to the impact of the large scale pieces
    • therefore in my work it is also important that I fully engage with my drawings and it is essential that they are larger scale – almost the size of my entire body
    • it becomes a mentally and physically exhausting process – forcing my entire body to go into a state of recall – ENTIRE BODY IN A STATE OF RECALL


  • also inspired by ‘Zen Calligraphy’
    • “fascinated by the difference between the tradition of the Western gaze and that of the Eastern glance”
      • ““It’s about mobility,” he explains. “So I’m walking and drawing in a very high speed way. And yet I’m trying to make concrete the utterly ethereal
    • “gesture remains much more important to Virtue than verisimilitude”
      • Verisimilitude – the appearance of being true or real
        • he is ignoring ‘the fact’ as we see not trying to recreate the appearance of the waves but rather their behaviour
          • this perhaps also should be the aim of my process – because up to this point the want to create an aesthetic has been blocking my process of simply drawing what I thought – by this I mean simple outlines and marks – just any piece of information that constructs my memories of my childhood home/s
    • ““There’s something about…making something with your hands,” he tells me. “I don’t respond to photography.”
  • “Virtue is trying to capture a peripatetic event just as much as those individual waves”
    • PERIPATETIC EVENT – “Walking about or from place to place; traveling on foot.” []
      • something that moves a lot
      • here it can be the subject of the work or the artist themselves


John Virtue: North Sea Paintings []

  • “Throughout his career, Virtue has always painted intensely the areas where he has lived”
    • establishing a close relationship between him and the places – in touch with them – aware of them, their qualities and behaviours – their relationship being reciprocal/symbotic
  • [on his process] “On the same day every week Virtue takes the same walk along the long finger of Cley beach to Blakeney Point, recording in his sketchbooks his movement through the landscape, the changing atmosphere of the sea and the passage of time. These drawings provide the source material for his paintings”
  • ” contemplation of the endless sea
    • “suggestion of an ambiguous deep space give them a distinctly sublime quality”
      • by creating an ambiguous dark space he creates sublimity – this has also been evidenced in previous artists’ works – SUBLIMITYOBLIVION – makes us contemplate life – makes people enter a STATE OF DEEP THOUGHT AND CONTEMPLATION – just as I am whilst making the piece
      • this is definitely conveyed in his work through the use of deep blacks but also contrasting those with a varied monotone palette


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