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A surprisingly diverse armoury

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: October 25, 2012

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Inspirations & Eepisodes In My Life; Oils, Drawings, Collages & Poems by Colin T. Johnson

Review by Frank Ruhrmund

ANYONE who has had the good fortune to call upon him at his home in Bedford Road, St Ives, will know that Colin T Johnson lives surrounded by books, so what better venue could there have been than St Ives Library for the launch of his illustrated autobiography Inspirations & Episodes In My Life; Oils, Drawings, Collages & Poems.

Not only an artist and bibliophile, he is also a music lover and, as he reveals in this book, also a considerable poet.

Indeed, such is the extent of his talents that diversity could be his middle name. For example, although renowned as an artist, in particular for the womb-like nature of his curvilinear compositions, he is more than happy to break free from the restraint of the picture frame to paint bowls and boxes instead of canvases, or even to assemble bits of timber, rope, string and paint, and shape them into free-standing constructions.

While his highly individual semi-abstract still life studies, sea and landscapes, are readily identifiable – you don't have to read the signature to recognise anything that he does – at the same time an element of surprise is part of his artistic armoury and you can never be quite sure what he will come up with next.

Knee-deep in paint for more than half a century, looking back at his long and distinguished career, Colin T Johnson has said: "I've always been interested in the contrast between natural and man-made objects, the hard line against the soft, exemplified in immovable harbour walls, piers and lighthouses, set against the moveable sea and sand dunes."

But, what he has not said until now is how he has managed to steer his own ship and to follow his own course through the shifting sands, the rock-strewn sea of art, ignoring and refusing to acknowledge the presence of its constantly changing fashions and genres, to emerge as his own master.

Now, at the age of 70 and still working, from his student days at Salford College of Art and at the Manchester Regional College of Art, places where, as John Sculley, director of museums, galleries and arts, City of Salford, tells us in his introduction: "By rare good fortune, he found himself studying under some of the North West's most highly regarded artists and educators, Frank Charleston, Terry McGlynn and Harry Rutherford.

"Even now their early influence is evidenced in his own approach to creating work of the highest standard."

One who, to again quote John Sculley, "Has mastered a unique language that successfully combines the four main components of painting – form, line, colour and most important in his case, composition – his consistent ability to tie various elements of a picture into a singular visual statement is testament to his unique approach and prolific output.

"He continues to make the kind of spiritually uplifting work that reinforces an intellectual appreciation of our common experience."

This book will surely prove to be an inspiration to both the student about to embark upon a career in art and to the established artist alike.

I have to declare an interest in it but, while I've said it before, I'm more than happy to say the following again. "Every artist," as Henry Havelock Ellis maintained, "writes his own autobiography" and Colin T Johnson has not only done just that but done it beautifully.

A "must" for anyone who has ever wondered what makes an artist tick, a sumptuous publication, with more than 500 colour plates of the artist's work interlaced with his perceptive poems, compiled and published by Colin T Jackson at £48, it can be ordered on www.colintjohnsonstives.com or by phone on 01736 794622.

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