BRYAN WYNTER (1915-1975)
BRYAN WYNTER (1915-1975)
BRYAN WYNTER (1915-1975)
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BRYAN WYNTER (1915-1975)
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BRYAN WYNTER (1915-1975)

Flowering Monolith

BRYAN WYNTER (1915-1975)
Wynter, B.
Flowering Monolith
signed, inscribed and dated 'BRYAN WYNTER/'FLOWERING MONOLITH'/1957' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
60 x 30 in. (152.4 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1957.
Purchased at the 1957 exhibition by Ralph Ehrmann.
Acquired from the above by the present owners.
London, Redfern Gallery, Bryan Wynter: French and English Paintings, March 1957, no. 1.

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Lot Essay

A key member of the St Ives community of artists, Bryan Wynter’s work, according to Patrick Heron, was ‘characterised by the brilliant, searching, restless, inventive intelligence of one of the loneliest and individual talents of our time’ (P. Heron, 'Bryan Wynter: Obituary', in C. Stephens, Bryan Wynter: St Ives Artists, London, 1999, p. 74). Flowering Monolith was created as part of a flurry of new work following an improvement in Wynter’s financial circumstances, a change which allowed him to enter a new stage of abstraction, and resulted in pieces of a scale and dynamism not yet seen.

The painting’s title, Flowering Monolith, is indicative of a key conceptual theme within Wynter’s work – the proliferation of life out of seemingly impassive stone. Echoes of this image crop up time and time again: as early as his first visit to St Ives, the stretch of coast upon which his life’s work would focus, he writes; ‘stone walls bursting with ferns and rock plants honeycomb the country into tiny fields and out of this mosaic rise the moors with great round hills covered in bracken and gorse and capped with huge granite boulders…’ (B. Wynter, letter to Robin Treffgarne, Summer 1945, in C. Stephens, ibid, p. 9).

Later that same summer, the motif becomes imbued with ideas reminiscent of post-industrial romanticism: ‘history and prehistory interrupts everywhere so that the present appears a recent growth upon the past whose bones project wherever you go; the roofless miners chapel with a tree growing in it and crawling with ivy, the tin mines and miners cottages where once men were busy. Everything goes up in stone, and being stone, remains, overgrown and taken over by the vegetable kingdom’ (B. Wynter, letter to Heddi Hoffmann, 13 August 1945, in C. Stephens, ibid, p. 30). Flowering Monolith explores a similar set of ideas about the palimpsest of history. The interrupting base layer of the canvas (itself a kind of monolith) is overrun by a blizzard of brushstrokes: calligraphic marks are concentrated up vertical lines like mandarin characters, the sudden organic curvatures of which thatch the work with an explosion of life, drawing the eye from the more sparse lower third upwards into a melee of shapes and colours. As ever in Wynter's work, once looked for, the landscape of Cornwall can be found: the feathered purple of heather; deep yellow strikes of gorse; and duck-egg blues of a sea-coloured sky lift the paint from the darker blacks and reds of the canvas with a vertiginous lightness.

Despite the constructivist echoes of industrial shapes which linger within the painting (described by Patrick Heron as like a ‘grille[s], or network[s] of brush-signs … as though Wynter were looking into a system of hanging, semi-transparent bead curtains, ranged one behind another’ (P. Heron, 'London: John Wells and Bryan Wynter', in C. Stephens, ibid, p. 44), the vision behind its conception is primarily organic. Inspired by biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson’s theories of morphology and natural growth, Wynter’s paint-style of sedimentation and erasure play into a philosophy of the artwork’s independent development: ‘Obviously it is I who have put into them what they contain but I have done so with as little conscious interference as possible, allowing them at every stage in their growth to dictate their own necessities.’ … ‘I think of my paintings as … something that generates imagery rather than contains it … ambiguous and paradoxical paintings with no main ‘theme’, from which the spectator may, by participation, extract his own images’ (B. Wynter, in C. Stephens, ibid, pp. 48-49). This relinquishing of control lies at the heart of Wynter’s abstraction – an acceptance of imaginative freedom upon the material permanence of the artwork which recalls the symbolism of Flowering Monolith. An elegy on Wynter’s death by the artist’s long-time friend W.S. Graham reinforces the importance of this idea through the image of a foxglove affixed to a wall in its first and final stanzas. The perennial flower crowns Carn Cottage (from the word ‘cairn’ meaning a heap of stones used as a landmark or tomb), a testament to the fertility of such an image within Wynter’s life.

Dear Bryan Wynter by W.S. Graham

This is only a note
To say how sorry I am
You died. You will realise
What a position it puts
Me in. I couldn’t really
Have died for you if so
I were inclined. The carn
Foxglove here on the wall
Outside your first house
Leans with me standing
In the Zennor wind.

I know I make a symbol
Of the foxglove on the wall.
It is because it knows you.

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