RETRO-INTROSPECTIVE

John Pearce is a professional artist who initially studied at Hornsey College of Art in the 1960s. His work hangs in the Guildhall, London. He has specialised in ‘plantscapes’, which are ‘the outcome of a painter working from observation within a unique space-time capsule, in which the picture develops in parallel with seasonal changes’.

Brambles in a North London Garden 2001

MILESTONES Written by John Pearce

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Introduction: This site is not so much a shop window* as a retrospective inquiry into how I and my painting have developed and been affected by my training, the zeitgeist, and other artists.

To navigate the site, please use the menu located at the top right-hand corner, or at the bottom of each page.

The first two pages (Retro-introspective, and Continuation), are an autobiographic overview with examples of my paintings and drawings. They draw an approximate time-line from 1960 to 2020.

The second two pages (Early Influences and Interests, and Later Influences and Interests) give a wider context, including some people and ideas that have been important. The remaining pages are varied and self-explanatory.

*Click here for: JOHN N. PEARCE: LIMITED EDITION PRINTS

Hornsey College of Art 1960 – 63

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Inner Landscape, 1961 11″x11″ oil on panel

The artist Julia Wolstenholme, a tutor at Hornsey Art College, and also life-partner to Frank Auerbach, alerted me to the fact that visual perception, and the activity of drawing, is as much visceral and subjective as intellectual and analytical. And Bridget Riley – though not yet the Op artist and 60s icon she was to become – opened my eyes to the vibrant energy of complimentary opposites, particularly red and green, in colour combinations.

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My 4’x6′ canvas ‘The Expulsion From The Garden of Eden’ was exhibited in the 1962 Young Contemporaries exhibition at the RBA galleries in Suffolk Street, London. This was the fullest expression of a ‘visionary’ phase inspired by Van Gogh, William Blake, and the teachings of Jung. Note that I never took any of the psychedelic drugs which were in vogue a few years later.

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The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, oil on canvas 4’x6′ exhibited Young Contemporaries 1962

Towards the end of the summer holiday in 1962 I had a cycling accident which split my lips and knocked out some front teeth. Emerging from two weeks in hospital, I went straight back to college – only to find that the inner visions seemed to have gone. Nevertheless, the outer world was still very present, and though painting directly from the subject seemed at the time a bit obvious and even banal, my response was direct and expressionistic. But I perhaps shared a widespread tendency with fellow art students at the time: at all costs avoid an obvious response to a subject, and don’t paint surface detail.

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The Back Garden, 9 Fairfield Road 1963

Every year students in the painting school entered for the so-called ‘Sketch Club Prize’. In 1963 the visiting judge was L.S. Lowry. He awarded me the prize, for my painting of our Crouch End back garden (above). Giving a great display of eccentric awkwardness, leaning with studied nonchalance on someone’s sculpture, Lowry appealed to the assembled students: “Come on somebody, ask me a question – I don’t know what to say!” Someone asked why he’d chosen my painting, and his reply was ‘I don’t know, I just know what I like.’

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Around 1964 I had a bonfire of my numerous art-school life drawings, as well as other works, including my graduation life painting (right). The above life painting – the only one I did which elicited approval from our revered tutor, Jesse Cast – and the charcoal drawing are the only survivors. I also lost track of the six- foot high, cement sgraffito decoration, and many more of my works over the years.

N.D.D. Life Painting 1963
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Painting in the meadow at ‘Hell’s Bottom’ – summer 1963
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The Meadow, Hellbottom Wood, oil on hardboard summer 1963

Newcastle University 1963 – 1964

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The Tyne from Jarrow, acrylic on hardboard
Sculpture from Tyneside debris in collaboration with John Richter 1963



London 1964-1980

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Backlands, Crouch End 1965 acrylic on canvas 56″x78″

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Balcony view Highgate 1973 acrylic on hardboard 4’x6′

On returning to London from Newcastle, the pressure to find my way in the world led to a gap in my painting output. After various temporary jobs, I found employment as a Grammar School art teacher. When I resumed painting and drawing, it was to accept a completely uncomplicated direct approach without any preconceived modernist or other philosophy, other than to do what I imagined everyone expected an artist to do – sit or stand in front of a subject and paint it. If this turned out to be dull and obvious, so be it. Perhaps in so doing I was at last following the high-minded, yet down-to-earth, advice of Hornsey tutors like Jesse Cast, John Titchell and John Wormell, rather than the blandishments of Frank Auerbach or Alberto Giacometti. In 1973 I held my first solo show in The New Gallery in Hornsey library. Others followed at Bruce Castle in Tottenham, Dunelm House in Durham University, and the Shipley Gallery in Gateshead.

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Chipps Orchard June 1975 oil on board, 24″x32″
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London from St Aloysius’ College, Highgate (Exhibited in the GLC ‘Spirit of London’ exhibition 1979)
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Blackberries in August, Muswell Hill, acrylic on hardboard 1980

‘Blackberries in August’ took four weeks of painting daily on site. As the painting developed, the brambles in the foreground grew apace, and were incorporated with other changing aspects of the scene as the summer advanced. The painting was acquired by the Greater London Council in 1980, and is on permanent display at the Guildhall Gallery, London.

To explore continuation of this approach, please click on CONTINUATION 1980 TO 2020.