Peter Lanyon

White Track


Peter Lanyon 1918–1964
Hardwood, plywood, steel and string
Object: 445 × 495 × 60 mm
With cover - 592 × 630 × 110 mm
Purchased 1981

Catalogue entry

T03324 WHITE TRACK 1939

Inscribed ‘Peter Lanyon' 39’ on edge of wood at upper left, and on reverse ‘WHITE TRACK 1939 Peter Lanyon. Peter Lanyon. The Red House, St. Ives Cornwall’ Wood and string, partly painted, 17 3/8 × 19 1/8 × 2 1/4 (44.6 × 49.5 × 6)
Purchased from Gimpel Fils (Grant-in-Aid) 1981
Prov: Mrs Sheila Lanyon
Exh: Sail Loft Gallery, St Ives, 1962 (47); Peter Lanyon, Arts Council exhibition, Tate Gallery, May–June 1968 (6, studio photograph) and subsequent tour to Plymouth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Birmingham and Liverpool; Peter Lanyon, Basil Jacobs Fine Art, November–December 1971 (16, colour); Peter Lanyon, Reliefs, Constructions and Related Paintings, Gimpel Fils, May–June 1975 (1); British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, Part 1: Image and Form 1901–1950, Whitechapel Art Gallery, September–November 1981 (173)
Lit: Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon: His Painting, Henley-on-Thames 1971, p.12, in colour; Adrian Lewis, ‘British Avant Garde Painting 1945–1956, Part I’, Artscribe, no.34, 1982, p.19

'White Track’ is one of Peter Lanyon's first constructions, and one of a small number of works made under the direct influence of the teaching of Ben Nicholson, who had moved to St Ives in August 1939.

Lanyon had begun to make abstract paintings and drawings in 1937 by abstracting his compositions from landscapes or interiors. Several relief constructions made in 1939–40, including ‘White Track’, went beyond this, and were arrangements of geometrical shapes for purely formal reasons. Lanyon was introduced to Ben Nicholson by their common friend Adrian Stokes, who suggested that Nicholson should give him instruction. Nicholson's teaching was described by Lanyon in a recorded conversation of 1962 with Lionel Miskin (Tate Gallery Archive, TAV 211 AB. Excerpts published in Adrian Lewis, op.cit., p.19, note 16). It was designed to make him pay attention to the formal and spatial values of the subjects, and also to use the common materials of the studio as subject. Lanyon remembered Nicholson suggesting as an exercise: ‘Supposing you put a piece of wood on the top of this board, another piece of wood at the bottom, you see what you could do with that’ which is relevant in a general way to ‘White Track’.

In 1962 Lanyon recorded a talk for the British Council in which he described his intentions in making ‘White Track’ (quoted in the Arts Council 1968 exhibition catalogue, under no.6): ‘I've broken’ with the rectangle and there's no restricting frame. I wanted to find out how to reproduce the weight of things. The object was to reduce the heaviness of the wood in the centre by the use of dynamic elements. A white dish shape is held by a sling on the diagonal, and a red cylindrical form travels round a white track. These two elements make the whole construction light and dynamic instead of heavy and static. You could say that just as the “Box Construction” is about space, this one is about movement in painting. They probably show two basic types of my own pictures. Some start with a quiet frontal plane, and others are altogether more agitated and moving. I have gone on making constructions, but of a rather different kind. But these early exercises taught me something, and enabled me to go back to the landscape.’

A number of drawings of 1939–40 were made in connection with this group of constructions, particularly ‘Triangle Turning’ of 1939 (6 × 8in., repr.Peter Lanyon, Drawings and Graphic Work, City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, April–May 1981 (5) and ‘White Track Forming’ 1939 (10 3/4 × 9 3/4in.).

The studio photograph of 1939–40 published in the 1968 Arts Council catalogue shows ‘White Track’ hanging on a free-standing screen with two other relief constructions, and with two further constructions standing on boxes on front.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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