Peter Lanyon

Turn Around


Not on display

Peter Lanyon 1918–1964
Plastic, polystyrene, glass, wood, oil paint and fibreboard
Displayed: 660 × 660 × 90 mm
Purchased 1994


Early in his career, Peter Lanyon made three-dimensional constructions as works of art. During the 1950s, he did not see such assembled objects as independent works but as aids in the development of the structure and space of his paintings. From 1960, he produced assemblages which combined found objects, often studio detritus, with oil paint and which he exhibited alongside his paintings. In a sense this development was continuous with his paintings, which he saw as a conglomeration of images and associations influenced by his interest in beach-combing. Turn Around has been described as 'a collage with paint' as distinct from those of his late paintings which incorporate collage elements (Causey, p.46). It is especially reminiscent of Lanyon's first abstract works. Specifically, Box Construction No.1, 1939-40 (Pier Gallery, Stromness), with which he investigated pictorial space, had consisted of gelatine filters and protruding elements set within a similar glazed box. Much of Turn Around consists of the painted backboard; other objects are attached to that, including the blue-painted arc of polystyrene. A cardboard tube protrudes from the centre, pushing forward a piece of transparent plastic; a length of white plastic isolates a quiet area of pale blue, over which two lengths of wooden dowel extend from the right-hand side of the frame.

Andrew Causey has identified the subject of Turn Around as gliding. Lanyon had taken up gliding in 1959 and the unusual view of the landscape, and new bodily experiences, that it offered had become the principal source of his imagery (Causey, p.46). Typically for Lanyon, it is hard to say for certain what imagery this work contains. Colour may be symbolic or representational: the large red stroke might signify danger; the green could be grass, the purple heather, and the pale blue sky; the flesh tones on the left might signify the artist's own body in space. The rigid diagonal towards the middle could refer to the glider's instruments (perhaps indicating the aircraft's degree of tilt) or windscreen-wiper (similar references appear in paintings of the same period). Just as Box Construction No.1 grew from Lanyon's youthful experiments with pictorial space, this work may also be an attempt to reproduce artistically the space-experience of gliding.

Though Lanyon's work with collage and assemblage had precedents in his own career, it was also in keeping with developments in contemporary art. It has been claimed that his move in this direction 'was almost certainly prompted by [Kurt] Schwitters' (Causey, p.46). The German artist's collages and assemblages had been included in an influential exhibition of his work at the Lords Gallery, London, in 1958, which Lanyon had seen. The tradition of making art from detritus had recently been revived in the work of such American artists as Robert Rauschenberg, whose work Lanyon knew and admired. This type of art was so popular at that time that, in 1962, the British critic Lawrence Alloway wrote of the 'collage explosion' (quoted in Stephens, p.168) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, staged a major survey of Assemblages.

Further Reading:
Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon: Paintings, Drawings and Constructions 1937-64, exhibition catalogue, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 1978, p.46, reproduced p.48 in colour
Margaret Garlake, Peter Lanyon, London 1998, pp.56-7, reproduced p.57 in colour
Chris Stephens, Peter Lanyon: At the Edge of Landscape, London 2000

Chris Stephens
May 2001

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Display caption

Throughout his career Lanyon made three-dimensional constructions, and these are an important aspect of his art. In his earliest works of this kind, done in the late 1930s, he used
materials such as wood, glass and gelatine filters which he combined to make small objects like stage sets. Lanyon's constructions had a close relationship to his painting. They were, he wrote, 'experiments in space to establish the illusion and content of the space in the painting'. In 1959 Lanyon took up gliding and this affected how he looked at, and subsequently painted, the landscape. 'Turn Around' is a relief which takes its subject matter from the act of gliding. It is one of his late works, merging the boundaries between painting, collage and construction.

Gallery label, September 2004

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