Part 3, Project 5 Research Point

John Virtue (born 1947)

Virtue’s art is in the tradition of landscape painting and he cites John Constable (1776-1837), Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9?-82) and Philips Koninck (1619-88) as major influences. Since 1978 Virtue has chosen to work exclusively in monochrome in an attempt to make representations of landscape that would be relevant to a contemporary audience. This is, in part, to prevent his work from replicating or pastiching the painting of the past. The artist’s decision to work only in black and white is part of an attempt to pare away what he sees as inessential in his practice. In addition to refusing to work with colour, he never makes direct transcriptions of his subjects, but rather uses the hundreds of drawings in his sketchbooks as a starting point for imagined or remembered landscapes.

Paradoxically, considering his long-term engagement with landscape painting, Virtue considers himself an abstract artist. His works trace a journey from pure mark-making back to the figurative, rather than the traditional path from representation to abstraction. This infuses his depictions, or more properly accumulated impressions, of landscape with a subjectivity more closely associated with Abstract Expressionism, the American movement of the 1940s and 1950s. He describes the paintings in this series as ‘an armature for the whole psychological area in me’ (quoted in Moorhouse, 2000, p.11), revealing his emotional commitment to his practice. Andrew Graham-Dixon has commented, ‘[Virtue’s] subject is nature, but it is also his own nature’ (Graham-Dixon, p.9). [ref 1]

Two images of his paintings in the UK Government Art collection can be seen through the links below.

Landscape No. 664, 2003, White acrylic, black ink, shellac and emulsion on canvas, 183.30 cm x 183.50cm,

Landscape No. 662, 2003, White acrylic, black ink, shellac and emulsion on canvas, 183.00 cm x 183.00cm

I like John Virtue’s black-and-white paintings may be because I myself preferred black-and-white.  John Virtue reminded me some Chinese ink wash landscape paintings, particular the modern ones.

Lin Fengmian (1900 – 1991).  Lin was a Chinese painter.  He learned painting from his father, a well known painter before went to Paris in 1917 studied western painting.  His techniques and inspiration come from Impressionism. [ref 2] (accessed 29-05-15)Reference

[1] Tate accessed 29-05-2015

[2] Christian Chu (1984). Twentieth Century Chinese Painting. Hong Kong: The Urban Council. 131.


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