Peter Lanyon

Clevedon Bandstand


Peter Lanyon 1918–1964
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1219 × 1831 mm
frame: 1253 × 1864 × 39 mm
Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax from the estate of Sheila Lanyon and allocated to Tate 2019


Clevedon Bandstand 1964 is one of several works derived from a visit to the seaside town of Clevedon in Somerset. Lanyon travelled there with students from Bristol School of Art and others’ reminiscences and Lanyon’s own photographs of the town help to identify the source of several of the forms. The pink form on the right-hand side, which has been enhanced by sand added into the paint, derived from a drawing of a nude female figure that had been painted on the interior of a Victorian bandstand in which the group sought refuge during a rain shower. The thin black line probably refers to the unusually finely structured iron pier and the pattern of white dots might refer to phosphorescence on the water. Lanyon took a number of photographs of a boating pond close to the sea’s edge, and the division between the natural water and the man-made might be the source for the areas of different blues divided by thin red lines. Knowledge of Lanyon’s earlier work, such as Thermal 1960 (Tate T00375), would suggest that the loose, dry twist of white near the centre refers to a gust of wind.

This was one of the last paintings Lanyon completed – to the point of signing and titling it on the back – before his sudden death following a gliding accident in August 1964. In the last months of his life, his work had seemed to be moving in a new direction, his former style of heavily worked layers of paint giving way to thin washes of oil, rarely overlaid and of a generally brighter and more primary palette.

In the 1950s Lanyon had become established as a leading British practitioner of a gestural abstraction, fitting both into dominant international developments in painting and into a tradition of British landscape. From 1957 he exhibited regularly in New York. Like many artists of his generation, his work changed in the early 1960s as his dominant position became threatened by new forms of art, including the new figuration known as pop and what became known as ‘post-painterly abstraction’, in which gesture and heavy paint were replaced by thin, incident-free compositions. While Lanyon’s paint became thinner and less often layered, giving it a light luminosity akin to the acrylic paint just becoming established, in a number of works, such as Turn Around 1963–4 (Tate T06740), he also began incorporating three-dimensional elements, synthesising his previously parallel activities of painting and assemblage.

Despite the changes in technique and style, Lanyon’s primary concerns remained constant. Thus Clevedon Bandstand can be read as a portrait of a place and one in which place and the human figure might be seen to fuse. An abiding interest in liminal zones, the meeting of land and sea for example, can be seen in the meeting of zones of paint derived from narrowly divided expanses of water. Much of Lanyon’s art was about landscape and place in which suggestions of the figure, of sex and sexuality, and of psychological states are implied if not described, and Clevedon Bandstand shows how that continued until the end of his prematurely curtailed career.

Further reading
Margaret Garlake, Peter Lanyon, London 1998.
Chris Stephens, Peter Lanyon, exhibition catalogue, Tate St. Ives 2010.

Chris Stephens
July 2016

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