Peter Lanyon

Construction for ‘Lost Mine’


Peter Lanyon 1918–1964
Glass, paint and Bostick
Object: 538 × 483 × 270 mm
Purchased 1993


During the 1950s, Peter Lanyon made three-dimensional constructions as aids to working out the structure and space of his paintings. Though he spoke of this as his standard practice at that time, there are only a few paintings for which such constructions still exist. These pieces are to be distinguished from the constructions which he made from 1960 and exhibited as finished works of art. This, one of the last of the developmental devices, was used in the production of Lost Mine 1959-60 (Tate T06467). Like the painting, it was made in the garage which Lanyon used as a studio at his home in Carbis Bay, near the Cornish town of St Ives.

Construction for 'Lost Mine' is made up of pieces of broken glass, of different colours, joined with the adhesive Bostick and painted with black, red and white oil paint; the artist seems to have mixed black paint with the glue. In method and materials it is very similar to his Construction for 'St Just' 1952 (private collection). Lanyon did not explain how he used such objects, but the conjunction of transparent material with the black paint presumably helped him to conceptualise the layering of paint marks in the final work. Red and black are both dominant features of the painting. It has been proposed that the construction's 'close association' with Lost Mine can best be seen if it is viewed with the red plane at the back, 'so that the colour is only fleetingly visible, just as in the painting it seems to come and go behind shifting clouds' (Garlake 1992, p.57). Lanyon wrote of these 'tools' in relation to the methods and definition of space of Constructive Art, which he had learnt from the Russian sculptor Naum Gabo (1890-1977). He had known Gabo in St Ives in the 1940s, and the senior artist remained an acknowledged mentor. 'These objects are essentially throwaway things and could be compared to scaffolding. They should not be confused with complete and determined works. They are not space constructions but they are indications of a constructive process' (quoted in Garlake 1991, p.60).

Another of Lanyon's constructions, Coast Soaring, 1958 (private collection), has been associated with Lost Mine. This is a wall piece, more of a collage than a sculpture, consisting of a painted backboard to which two arcs - one of copper pipe and another of red-painted wood - are attached. The two shallow curves are echoed by red and black lines on the left of the painting. It has been suggested that the red 'signifies the excitement and danger of gliding', an activity that Lanyon took up in 1959 (Garlake 1992, p.57). Lost Mine predates the work which Lanyon identified as his first gliding painting. It is, nevertheless, likely that it was informed by this new experience which so excited the artist.

Further Reading:
Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon: Paintings, Drawings and Constructions 1937-64, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1978
Margaret Garlake, 'The Constructions of Peter Lanyon' in Peter Lanyon: Air, Land & Sea, exhibtion catalogue, South Bank Centre, London 1992, reproduced p.30 in colour
Margaret Garlake, Peter Lanyon, London 1998
Chris Stephens, Peter Lanyon: At the Edge of Landscape, London 2000

Chris Stephens
May 2001

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Display caption

This object relates to the painting Lost Mine, displayed nearby. Lanyon often used materials found in his studio to make three-dimensional constructions that helped him develop the space of his pictures. Pieces of glass stuck together with black paint and glue were especially effective, as their transparency suited the ambiguous spatial organisation of the paintings. Here, the vertical axis of the construction, coated with black, refers to the flooded mine shaft. The red pigment, also seen in the final painting, may signal danger and the loss of life.

Gallery label, May 2007

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