“HOLIDAY” 1947, by John Tunnard (1900 – 1971)
John Tunnard trained as a designer at the Royal College of Art (RCA) (1919-21). In the twenties he worked for several textile companies. He moved to Cornwall and started a hand-blocked silk business with his wife. He taught design at Penzance School of Art. “Holiday” is perhaps the most abstract from the series “School Prints”.
His first solo exhibition was in the Redfern Gallery in 1933, where his early work showed a strong influence of the Neo-Romantics such as Graham Sutherland. Both Tunnard and Nancy Wynne-Jones were inspired by the writing of Herbert Read.
Read considered Tunnard a Surrealist at heart; ‘A painting by John Tunnard begins in the order of nature; it traverses the phantasms of the imagination; and then it ends in the order of art, which is an analogy of the mystical mathematics of the City of Heaven.’ (1997, Alan Peat and Brian Whitton, John Tunnard: His Life and Work, Scolar Press).
John Tunnard emerged in the 1930s (one of a small group of pioneering British artists) as one of the most individual abstract painters, he began to explore the frontiers of surrealism. By 1939 he was exhibiting widely in London, including at Peggy Guggenheim’s surrealist-inspired gallery Guggenheim Jeune. The collector Peggy Guggenheim called him a ‘genius’ and thought his paintings were ‘as musical as Kandinsky’s, as delicate as Klee’s and as gay as Miro’s’.
By the late 1940s Tunnard was involved in contemporary British art shows in New York and Paris. Later he was one of the artists invited to create murals for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Tunnard settled in Cornwall, near the south tip of the Lizard, and was an outlying member of the St Ives Group, which did so much in the mid-20th century to develop a new British abstraction, with profound effects on the growth of modern art in Britain. Although Tunnard’s name is seldom at the top of the list of British art heroes from this high point of modernism, he is increasingly acknowledged as one of the most accomplished artists of this school, not least in his extraordinary technical refinement. In the late 1960s and ‘70s he took daring forays into abstraction, keeping pace with a newer generation of painters who were leaving landscape-derived abstraction behind, and turning towards space-age concepts, and the depiction of atomic or amoebic forms.
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