North Sea Paintings by John Virtue

Sunday 1st May – Sunday 25th September

Houghton Hall is delighted to present North Sea Paintings by John Virtue, an exhibition in collaboration with Albion Barn. The North Sea Paintings emerged as a ritual, produced from weekly walks on Fridays to the sea. Virtue moved to Norfolk in 2009, the captivating journey from the beach at Cley Next the Sea towards Blakeney Point became the subject of an expansive series of paintings.

“As you leave behind the coastal marshland and the low Dutch-like villages, all you have is a trajectory to the North Sea, sand going out, a single line for four and a quarter miles to a vanishing point, an event horizon.”

Virtue would characterise his artist’s eye in its glances, deliberately keeping his subject impermanent, shadowy. In the most literal sense, he works with impressions. This glancing technique allows for the now familiar aspects of the landscape to recede from the eye; the paintings focus on the far more changeable and elemental movements of the coastline. These walks produce a surfeit of sketchbook studies which become the raw material from which the largescale acrylic works are reconstituted from, amalgamating the multiple images upon the singular surface of the canvas. This method of piecing together can be understood as a direct interaction with the grid constructions of his earlier work, while releasing the painted environment from the constraints of a rigid form.

The practice of walking, drawing, constructing back in the studio, is one that has followed Virtue throughout his career, as he moved from Green Haworth in Northeast Lancashire to the edge of Dartmoor; Exeter; London; Italy; and finally, Norfolk. Virtue rose to prominence with his pen and ink landscapes assemblages of drawings, capturing Green Haworth on the edge of Pennine Moorland with densely wrought hatching. Gradually, Virtue has moved back to painting, and moved increasingly
to abstraction – a tonal departure that is best captured by the artist’s relocation from city to countryside. The mark making within these North Sea Paintings is explicit: it is a discussion of the brutality and primality of weather upon an environment – a distinctly different effect than the more subtle bleeding and blending that occurs within his cityscapes.

Born in Accrington, Lancashire (1947), John Virtue studied at Slade School of Fine Art from 1965 to 1969. He was an Associate Artist at the National Gallery between 2003-2005 and was an honorary professor of Fine Art at the University of Plymouth between 2003-2008. He was an honorary fellow at Yale University from 2006 – 2010. He has works in numerous public collections, most notable: Tate Gallery, London; British Museum, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Arts Council England; Government Art Collection; Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, CT; Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis; Contemporary Art Society, London; London Hospital NHS Trust; Guildhall Museum & Art Gallery, London; Courtauld Gallery Collection of Drawings & Prints, London; Somerset House Trust Collection, London; Towner Art Gallery and Museum, Eastbourne; and The Queensland Museum and Gallery of Modern Art, Australia.