Bryan Wynter (1915-1975)
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Bryan Wynter (1915-1975)

Blind Man's Bush

Bryan Wynter (1915-1975)
Blind Man's Bush
signed, inscribed and dated 'Bryan Wynter/Blind Man's Bush/1958 No. 1' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
84 x 36 in. (213.4 x 91.4 cm)
Monica Wynter, 2000, from whom acquired by the present owner.
Japan, The British Council, 6th International Exhibition, 1961, no. 12.
A.I.A. Exhibition, London (not traced).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Lot Essay

‘I used to be a landscape painter. Am I still influenced by landscape? The landscape I live among is… dominated by winds, by swift changes of weather, by the moods of the sea; sometimes it is devastated, and blackened by fire. These elemental forces enter the paintings and lend their qualities without becoming motifs’. (‘Notes on My Painting’, Bryan Wynter, Galerie Charles Lienhard exhibition catalogue, Zurich, 1962).

Bryan Wynter, described in 1959 by Art and Artists UK correspondent as the only ‘serious challenge’ to American dominance of the London art scene, was a major figure in post war British painting. Synonymous with the Spartan lifestyle which he enthusiastically espoused when he moved to Cornwall in 1945, Bryan Wynter is best known for his idiosyncratic interpretations of the barren beauty of the Zennor moorlands.

From about 1952 he began moving steadily in the direction of non-figurative painting, producing by 1954 aggressively abstract renditions of the West Penwithian landscape reminiscent of Graham Sutherland’s Thorn Heads and the proliferation of sculpture produced in their wake by Reg Butler and others. By 1956 Wynter had developed a unique brand of gestural mark making resulting in an ‘all-over’, automatist aesthetic free from conventional compositional structure and any kind of recognisable subject matter. The Interior, the first of such works produced in January of that year heralded the advent of a decade of experimentation in this vein. 1958, the year in which Blind Man’s Bush was painted, was a highly productive year for Wynter, during which he also completed Night Journey, Earth’s Riches, Earth Tremor, North, Thicket and Tumult.

Wynter had long believed that art could flourish only in the absence of ‘conscious interference’, his work before and during the war owing much to the oeuvres of the Surrealists, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. In 1956 Wynter was exceptional among British artists in the way his path from Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism paralleled that of the New York artists, such as Jackson Pollock, a decade earlier. Despite having ceased to base his paintings on detailed preliminary drawings and gouaches, believing that ‘drawing organises your looking’, and therefore approaching each new painting free from the preconceived, there is evidence to suggest that Wynter’s working practice was methodical. Michael Bird writes in his monograph on the artist that, ‘he often began with a dense under-painting of black strokes. The next stage involved simplifying this complex all-over design, either by over-painting certain areas with household undercoat or applying a coloured glaze, such as Indian yellow… Subsequent layers of larger or smaller paintstrokes were added, often with weeks or months between each stage’ (Michael Bird, Bryan Wynter, London, 2010, p. 118). Wynter’s working method is as much about Abstract Expressionism, with its emphasis on what William Baziotes called ‘unpredictable and surprising’ paint-events, as it is with the much more systematic creation of optical effects later called Op Art (quoted in A.H. Barr, Jr, exhibition catalogue, ‘Introduction’, The New American Painting, Tate, London, 1959, p. 9).

Blind Man’s Bush, like other of Wynter’s works of the late 1950s is remarkable for its incredible variety of brushstrokes, or ‘brushsigns’ as fellow artist and critic Patrick Heron began referring to them. This too is what makes each work of this period so unquestionably unique and so entirely irreproducible. In Blind Man’s Bush, the effect of the layering of such a compendious range of mark making is quite overwhelming, the whole seeming suspended in an impossibly paradoxical state of dynamic stasis, of arrested turbulence. In 1962 on the occasion of an exhibition of his work at the Galerie Charles Lienhard in Zurich, Wynter is quoted as having said of his work of the late 1950s: ‘I was trying to create a kind of visual flux, a surface on which the eye found it difficult to rest so that, if it were not rebuffed, it would be compelled to push deeper and come to terms with the forces underlying the painting’ (‘Notes on My Painting’, Bryan Wynter exhibition catalogue, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, 1962, p. 119). Such forces are vexingly difficult to define, the canvas seeming imbued with a kind of cryptic potential. One feels that the painting is in a constant state of becoming, a state, comparable to Henri Bergson’s definition of ‘la duree’, or ‘duration’, a sense of waiting for meaning to emerge from cryptic depths that feel at once physical - resulting from his exploration of and deep connection to the landscape around him - and psychical resulting from his desire to create a liberated, ‘artless’ art of the unconscious. He wrote: ‘I think of my paintings as a source of imagery, something that generates imagery rather than contains it. Obviously it is I who have put into them what they contain but I have done so with as little conscious interference as possible’ (artist’s statement in Statements: A Review of British Abstract Art in 1956 exhibition catalogue, ICA, London, 1957). Wynter’s use of an earthy palette of varying shades of brown in Blind Man’s Bush is highly evocative of the kind of moorland flora common to Zennor. The dense thicket of layered colour appears at once impetuous, energetically worked over, and yet, as with Atavistic Group, 1959, in which a series of skeletal figures appears to emerge from the dense array of cipher like brushsigns, one feels as if there might be more of a structure there than initially suspected.

It is interesting to note Wynter’s tendency, as can be seen in Blind Man’s Bush, to locate an offset centre of gravity in the upper third of the painting, something which, combined with a correspondingly summary treatment of the lower third of the canvas, heightens the viewer’s sense of the artist’s physical presence. His canvases are often in the region of six feet by three, their size seeming to equate to Wynter’s long slender figure, the pattern of marks reflecting the limits of his body and its movements.

As with Blind Man’s Bush, Wynter’s paintings of late 1950s seem when analysed, ‘strange to language’ (B. Wynter, Statements) for in essence they are about feeling, sensation, the immediacy, the primacy of a response to life, to nature and a bid to lose oneself, to become, in the words of Aldous Huxley, whose experience of taking mescaline documented in The Doors of Perception encouraged Wynter to experiment with the drug, the ‘Not-I’.

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