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T03659 Large Brush Drawing c.1975–6
Black ink on paper 36 × 51 7/8 (916 × 1318)
Inscribed ‘W. Johnstone’ b.l.
Presented anonymously in memory of Terence Rattigan 1983
Prov: Purchased from the artist by the donor 1976
Exh: William Johnstone, Hayward Gallery, February–March 1981, AC tour, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, April–May 1981, Talbot Rice Art Centre, Edinburgh, July–August 1981 (148)
The artist first made a series of small abstract ink drawings in the 1930s and continued to do so at intervals throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Towards the end of 1974 the scale of the drawings increased and T03659 is an example of this new found expansion. Johnstone's autobiography Points in Time, published in 1980, offers an explanation:
I was delighted to receive as a birthday present in 1974 a most beautiful architect's drawing table, and in excitement, we drove to Edinburgh to buy reams of the finest drawing paper. It seemed sacrilegious to destroy the pristine clarity of these lovely sheets of paper, such marvellous quality, such inviolate whiteness. This barrier had to be broken and for two years I enjoyed myself enormously making large drawings in Indian ink and watercolour.
Johnstone's ink drawings were done spontaneously, not copied from any external motif. With its horizontal format, T03659 has resonances of landscape subject matter and the donor told the compiler that the artist recalled how ‘Large Brush Drawing’ was done from memory in response to the Roxburghshire landscape which meant so much to him. Johnstone was born on a border farm, and when he retired from art teaching in London in 1961, he returned to his roots and bought a farm on the borders. In his autobiography, he wrote of the importance of that landscape:
Always I have made drawings of the Border landscape which, by now, has become so ingrained in my system that whatever I do my own countryside comes through. My art is, therefore, not really ‘abstract’ art, although it is certainly abstracted from my own landscape - elemental, but located geographically in the Scottish Borders.
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986