Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Peter Lanyon : Cornish Artist

My husband's side of the family tree is rather intriguing and much has been researched on both his father's and his mother's sides of the tree. There are tin merchants, photographers, carpenters, musicians and composers, outfitters and tailors, farmers and pioneers, midwives and Indian Army Majors but one man became a well established name in Cornish history. My husband's maternal grandfather: Peter Lanyon the potter, sculptor, and painter.

One evening not too long ago, I was idly googling Peter for any new images or paintings and on the fifth or sixth line of results I discovered a photograph I had never seen before. It was taken by Ida Kar in 1961 and it's a really lovely shot of him.

There is so much expression in his face. I wish I could've met him.

I remember once listening to an old reel-to-reel audio of Peter Lanyon talking about his love of art and his heady youth in St Ives. Of all the things he said I will never forget when he responded to a question by saying, "I like cliffs. They're very tall...and thin." My husband and I still say that to each other from time and time and fall about laughing. Of course, Peter was referring to the view from his beloved glider. Imagine being an artist, looking for inspiration along the Cornish coastline. You would be absolutely spoiled for choice, and Peter used every opportunity he had to create masses of paintings, drawings and sculptures of Cornwall.

Peter loved each of his children and he took them with him on many walks and hikes around Cornwall, and he taught each of them to appreciate and hone their own unique craft. Today his sons are renowned painters, including Andrew Lanyon and Matthew Lanyon. I didn't get to meet Andrew during our 2006/7 trip to England as he was away in Japan but I did meet Matthew and I recall him being hilarious fun and great with my daughter.

George Peter Lanyon was born in 1918, one of two children born to William Herbert Lanyon and Lilian Vivian. Peter was educated at Clifton College in Bristol but St Ives remained his base and his first love however extensively he travelled throughout his life. As his love of art grew so did his ties with fellow artists Patrick Heron, Borlase Smart, Victor Pasmore, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Adrian Stokes, and Naum Gabo.

Peter at Little Park Owles Studio, 1955

From 1940 to 1945 he served with the Royal Air Force in the Western Desert, Palestine and Italy. In 1946 he married Sheila St John Browne. Peter and Sheila had six children (including my mother-in-law, Jane). Also in 1946 he became an active member of the Crypt Group of Artists, St Ives. During the 1950s he became established as a leading figure in the St. Ives group of artists.

Peter in his glider, c. 1960

Peter took up gliding as a pastime and used the resulting experience extensively in his paintings. One day in August 1964, on a training course with the Devon and Somerset Gliding Club, he came in to land too low; the glider nose-dived and catapulted him out. He died four days later as a result of his injuries. He grave slab carries and inscription from one of his own poems:

I will ride now
The barren kingdoms
In my history
And in my eye

The Returned Seaman, 1949
In The Trees, 1951
Chesil Bank, 1958

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