John Wells



Not on display

John Wells 1907–2000
Oil paint on board
Frame: 498 × 466 × 66 mm
support: 302 × 280 mm
Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977

Catalogue entry

John Wells born 1907

T02234 Painting 1957

Oil on board 302 x 280 (11 7/8 x 11)

Inscribed on back in pencil on two areas of white paint: 'John Wells | 1957' and 'ANCHOR STUDIO | TREWARVENETH STREET | NEWLYN | CORNWALL'

Bequeathed by Miss E.M. Hodgkins 1977

Painting 1957 epitomises John Wells's work of the 1950's in its combination of pure abstraction and suggestions of natural sources and in its contrast of a highly textured surface with geometric areas of strong colour. In 1981 Wells said, 'Its very important to me to have a good texture at the background. I sometimes, you know, have a piece of board or something which has taken twenty years to get some sort of feeling for it' (Lewis and Fox-Pitt, 1981). This ageing process is clearly evident in Painting 1957, which the artist described as having a 'terrific amount of texture'. Over a thin, smooth white ground he applied various layers of paint. These were smoothed down and scratched using a knife or razor blade and, Wells said in 1995 (interview, 1995), very rough sandpaper or garnet-paper, which is much harder. This produced areas of white under-painting with very irregular edges and a pattern of swirling incised lines across the whole picture surface.

Over this textural background the geometric pattern of strong colour has been applied in thin oil glazes, which allow the brightness of the white beneath to show through and give the colours their typical luminosity. One or two areas of colour are thicker and have been applied with looser brushmarks. As with Painting 1956, the underlying design of Painting 1957, which is visible in places, has been composed using a rectilinear and diagonal grid, based, in the later painting, upon the division of the board into thirds. The overall effect is very reminiscent of the work of Paul Klee, who was an important influence on Wells throughout his career. He had been pleased to learn that his friend the poet W.S. Graham had helped Jankel Adler write his 'Memories of Paul Klee', published in Horizon, October 1942, an article which Wells found inspiring and moving. In 1995 Wells said of Klee, 'I always come back to him again, and have a look at his work again, again and again' (ibid.). The critic J.P. Hodin, a close friend of Wells, wrote that Klee's influence on Wells, 'brought the innermost character of his work to the fore', concluding, 'The art of John Wells has a mystical and a religious quality and is very personal' (Studio, vol. 157, no.795, June 1959, p.191).

Purchased by Miss E.M. Hodgkins from the Penwith Gallery, St Ives 1957

Spring Exhibition, Penwith Gallery, St Ives, 1957 (34)

Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1976-8, p.140
Cross 1984, repr. p.68 pl.42 (col.)

Chris Stephens
March 1996

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