Yesterday I was fortunate to visit the final two exhibitions of paintings by the late, and truly great British painter David Prentice. He passed away on 7th May 2014 at the age of 77, leaving behind him an immense collection of work and a unique contribution to the British tradition of landscape painting.
Prentice fascinates me because his approach to landscape painting is so unlike any other artist. Traditionally trained in the art of drawing and painting in Birmingham in the 1950's he then travelled to New York and began making entirely abstract paintings. Over the following years, he slowly found a way to combine his love of traditional plein air landscape painting and his intuitive, studio based abstract approach. He would spend hours in the hills, (especially the Malverns after he moved there in 1990) drawing and painting beautiful pen and wash studies like the one pictured below, of "Tintern from the Devil's Pulpit". Then he would return to his studio and work only from memory, creating large oil paintings with many layers and colours, as above in "The Wye at Tintern". Somehow, the detail from the initial studies would find its way into the bigger pieces and an utterly unique combination of figurative and abstract would emerge. Tyre tracks, road signs and pedestrians are converted into thick slabs and bars of colour, laid over thin layers of rich colours. Foreground trees become rods of turquoise and yellow at the side of the painting. His eye for abstract composition allows him to play with shapes unconcerned about breaking 'the rules' of landscape painting. Reducing the colour contrast in his paintings reveals a simple pattern of values beneath each painting (the easiest way to do this is to squint at the picture through almost closed eyes). Although bright coloured and 'unreal' Prentice's paintings capture English light, place and weather like no other, the sense of space and depth in "Grey mist Malvern" is truly magical.
It may be a long time before we have another opportunity to view such a large collection of David Prentice's work. We can only hope that there will be an increasing level of recognition for his great contribution to our landscape painting heritage and that this will give rise to future exhibitions.
So, thank you, Mr Prentice for your inimitable work and your commitment to British painting. May your paintings give inspiration to generations to come and may you be remembered forever as a great innovator and painter of the beautiful British landscape.
There are currently two exhibitions of his work, one in Worcester Art Gallery and Museum, titled 'Skylight' curated by Prentice himself, offering a comparison between his own work and that of his hero Paul Nash. The second exhibition 'A Last Look at the Malverns' is at the John Davies Gallery in Moreton-in-Marsh, where Prentice had exhibited his new works annually for many years. They have a good selection of his works from recent years.
Exhibitions continue at John Davies Gallery until 19th July 2014
And at Worcester Art Gallery and Museum until 5th July 2014