BY CHRISTOPHER CHAPMAN
The earliest surviving works illustrated on this site are drawings which date from the early 1960’s when I was a student. The paintings date from the mid 1960’s up to the present. Over the years paintings were lost in various ways, some were sold, some were given away or lost in accidents. A number were rejected as unsatisfactory and destroyed; this seems to me to be an important part of the creative process.
My approach to painting is intuitive. I try to work using a direct and uncomplicated means of expression, deep feelings can be expressed with simple means. Some paintings combine interiors of rooms with glimpses of landscape, suggesting something unknown or just out of reach, like distant memories of childhood. A world remembered, but one to which we can never return.
I was born and grew up in St. Albans in the days when it was a quiet market town surrounded by farmland. I lived with my father, mother and sister in a little house near the Abbey. The house was in a small terrace, not far from the River Ver and the remains of Roman Verulamium. A few sections of the Roman walls can still be seen today but the ancient city is buried under mature woods of beech and oak. Among the trees were little dells and hollows where a boy could hide. The river banks and the woods were my playground. I was very aware that the past, although buried, was still there, and I absorbed a sense of history without really being conscious of it.
At the age of eleven the family moved from St Albans to a village in a rural part of Hertfordshire. In the 1950’s Hertfordshire was a very different place to the county of today. Farming was still at the centre of rural life and the sleepy villages were self-contained communities. In our village then there were two grocers, a blacksmith, a post office, six pubs, a shoe-mender, a butcher, an ironmonger and even a draper. In Betty’s shop you could buy knitting wool and sweets weighed out from large jars into little paper bags.
Today there is one shop and one pub.
I used to walk for hours across fields, through woods and along the banks of the little river. In doing so I formed a deep, emotional attachment to the English countryside. It followed naturally that my first drawings and paintings were of the landscape around me. Constable was the painter I most admired, his passion and evident love of the countryside was something I understood and could identify with.
No paintings of mine have survived from those early days, but there are a few drawings, mostly in charcoal, which at that time was my preferred medium. With charcoal I found I could rapidly capture the emotions I felt in the landscape and put them down on paper.
The Old Quarry. Charcoal. 1962
In 1960 I enrolled at Hornsey Art School in North London to study painting. To get there I travelled every day by train and bus from the village in Hertfordshire where I lived, a journey which took a good two hours there and two hours back. At the end of the day I left London with a sense of relief, and travelled back to the country as soon possible so that I could be among the fields and the trees again which I continued to draw and paint. The last part of the journey was on a little branch line train which could be idyllic, especially in the summer. The line passed through fields, farmland and woods where leafy branches brushed against the carriage windows and cows paddled in the little river next to the line
When my art school studies came to an end I had to find work. I took a part time teaching job in a school and lived in a rented room. The transition from life in the country to living in the city was not an easy one. Whenever I could I returned to my parents’ house in the country but I was not able to spend as much time there as before and inevitably life in the city began to make its presence felt in my work. The human figure became more important and figures in interiors began to take the place of landscapes
In 1967 I was awarded an Italian Government Painting Scholarship which enabled me to live and work in Milan for a year. I took a studio near the city centre in Corso Garibaldi where I worked and travelled as much as I could to explore the country. I visited Venice and the islands. I went to Florence and the Uffizi. I saw the beautiful cathedral of Pisa. I went several times to Sienna and there I admired the paintings of Duccio, the Lorenzetti brothers and the visionary painter Giovanni di Paulo.
I was struck by the quality of light in Italy, so different from the light of northern Europe, that I felt as if I was becoming aware of light for the first time.
A short distance by train from Milan are the great lakes, Como, Garda and Maggiore, peaceful and serene among the mountains. I used to buy some bread, ham and olives and spend half a day by the lakes to escape from the bustle of the city.
The scholarship was paid in instalments each month when I presented my credentials at the bank. A disadvantage of this arrangement was that I could only travel on relatively short journeys before I had to return to Milan for more funds. Many years later I returned to Italy and was able to explore the places I had missed. I travelled to Rome, Naples, Sicily the Aeolian Islands and anywhere else that looked interesting.
During that first year in Milan I met some Italian artists who quickly became good friends, Through the painter Pier Luigi Lavagnino I was introduced to Sig Fumagalli, the owner of Galleria Delle Ore, a gallery well known and much respected throughout Italy, now sadly closed. I was invited to mount three one man exhibitions there during the 1980’s and took part in a number of mixed exhibitions.
EXHIBITIONS IN MILAN, 1979 – 1993.
My first exhibition in Milan was in 1979 at Libri Einaudi, the bookshop of the publisher Einaudi. This was followed by a second exhibition in 1982. Both consisted mainly of etchings and drawings.
GALLERIA DELLE ORE
In 1984 I first exhibited at the Galleria delle Ore, a large gallery near the Brera, well known and much respected throughout Italy. This was a solo show consisting of recent paintings. The exhibition was well received and two more exhibitions of paintings followed, one in 1987 and a third in 1990. I also exhibited in three group shows of gallery artists.
To explore the following gallery, please click on the images:
To explore the following gallery, please click on the images:
I first saw photographs of California Redwood trees in about 1960 in a National Geographic magazine. Even in photographs it was possible to get a sense of the size and majesty of the trees and I was deeply impressed. In the 1960’s California seemed so inaccessible that I couldn’t imagine ever being able to see Redwoods in reality. But the world changed and air travel made accessible what had once seemed impossibly remote. In 2002 I travelled to California and was able to stand and look in awe at these trees, which are among the largest living things on earth.