[1] Peter Lanyon

“The paintings … are not abstract, nor are they landscape. They use abstraction as a method and landscape experience as a source”

Peter Lanyon was a leading artist in St Ives. He used abstract expressionism, symbolism, constructivism and colour theory to change the depiction of the landscape from the pastoral and romanticised to the sensual and contemporary. Lanyon was born and lived in Cornwall almost all his life, his love for the history of Cornwall and Cornish landscape was omnibenevolent which led him to make representations of a Cornish landscape true to him.

Peter Lanyon used his lifelong memories to show his feelings and experiences associated with Cornwall to create a fuller representation (for him) of that landscape, I find this concept interesting because it doesn’t mean that you are faced with a visual landscape. But, a psychological view of a landscape from a person’s mind.

I particularly like Lanyon’s elongated landscapes, the one i’ve included below ‘west penwith’ shows a free flowing landscape, full of curvature and shapes. Although this landscape is abstracted, I can still see a landscape’s horizon. I would like to explore using rectangular boards, as it allows you to experiment with a landscapes field of view and skyline.

West Penwith 1949 by Peter Lanyon 1918-1964
West Penwith (1949) by Peter Lanyon. Oil on board.

Lanyon’s use of symbolism and written  helps the viewer to unpick his landscapes, they often tell a story. In the below example of Lanyon’s work Yellow Runner, we can see a yellow fox, a horse and an unmistakable curved Cornish hill. The painting celebrates his homecoming from the war, his recognition of the importance of Cornwall and also the imminent birth of his first child. The horse is shown as being protected underground showing symbolism of a child in a womb, it also symbolises Cornwall’s mining history, further to this, the yellow shape pointing up  reaching the surface is recognised as a mine shaft.

Yellow Runner (1946) by Peter Lanyon. Oil on board.

In the later years of his life, Peter Lanyon wanted to grab a further sense of depth and space. He had painted from experience but now wanted to find a new way of exploring the landscape. He had been in the RAF and was able to fly a plane toward the end of the war, but hadn’t since. He took up gliding and with it, experienced the landscape from a totally different angle. The paintings made from his flight journeys are truly expressive, they convey the the bitterness of the cold air and the birds eye view of the landscape below. “For the first time I was able … to experience my country from outside it returning to land rather than emerging from inside it.” Lanyon wanted his landscapes to convey all feeling associated with air land and sea, this he did. His life was sadly cut short at the age of 46 he died as a result of a gliding incident, but he achieved a body of work as an exploration of the landscape and the body, which successfully modernised the portrayal of the landscape.

Soaring Flight (1960) by Peter Lanyon. Oil on canvas

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18 years old, first year fine art student in Cardiff :)

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