Peter Lanyon’s insider modernism

The St Ives school of modern art was dominated numerically by temporary residents. However, one of its central and most talented figures was locally born Peter Lanyon (1918-64). According to Andrew Causey’s biography of Lanyon, his method was ‘one of sublimation, where the figure disappears into landscape’.

For Lanyon, the landscape was not the object of the traditional painterly gaze, masterfully possessed by the act of representation. He wanted to produce an art where subject and object were difficult to separate and where the artist was an ’embodied presence in the landscape’. In this way, his art could ‘express the idea of belonging’, which was particularly relevant for ‘an artist with generations of local forebears who helped make the landscape what it is’.

As an example, referring to his painting of Wheal Owles, Lanyon explained that the blue indicated  water and the red the metallic oxide that discoloured the local cliffs. But he added that the ruins of such mines were ‘a wound in the character of the native Cornishman. This is the immense wealth of minerals marked by a black cross’. The blue slash penetrating the interior of the mine is also significant in reminding us that this was the site of a major disaster due to the flooding of the underground workings in 1893.

Wheal Owles (1958)