The structure of Oarscape is more complex than it at first appears. The work's principal component is an oar, whose face Lanyon painted black. The top of the oar shaft, where it is gripped by the rower's hands, he left unpainted, and the blade he overpainted with thick white paint, which he then partly scraped off, leaving rills of white over the underlying black. The oar is attached to a white laminate board and sits between a fragment of painted tile and a long ruler-like sliver of painted board that are stuck to it. The laminate board sits on a larger rectangle of board, which is mainly painted blue grey, although glimpses of black and beige breakthrough in places, most noticeably at the lower right and just above the top edge of the oar's blade.
Lanyon seems to have had the idea of an oarscape as early as 1951. Writing to William Scott on 31 March (William Scott Foundation Archive), he said that he had "given up painting and am painting my house all over except the roof. I have the front gate in my studio painted fresh cow pat colour. It's wonderful to have a real thing in the studio. I wish I had a big studio so I could have a steamroller inside (for making flat white) or one of those incredible engines that live at fair grounds called 'Perseus' or 'Tilling Stevens'. I think I must get a boat house so that I can paint real things. Think of sending a landscape painted on an oar to the British Council!"
Although this comment does not seem to have been entirely serious, by the late 1950s and early 1960s he was making constructions from objects washed up on local beaches . It is not known where the oar came from, but its appropriation is certainly consistent with his other constructions of the period.
The long format echoes Porthmeor Mural and the related construction Long Coast, which Lanyon may have been working on at the same time as Oarscape. In the 1975 Gimpel Fils exhibition catalogue, the construction is identified as having 'influenced the design of the mural for the Arts Building, University of Birmingham' but how it did so is hard to see.
In his alphabetical record book (Lanyon Family Archive), the artist dated the work 1962 and gave its dimensions as 8.5x72.5 inches. Whereas the length is commensurate with the length of the oar itself, the height is puzzling, as the pieces of the board are much taller than 8.5 inches. He must have either made an error when he recorded these dimensions or returned to the construction afterwards and added the boards. The dimensions given here are those of the box, although it was probably added posthumously.
Whatever happened, these dimensions establish the landscape orientation of the construction. Without them and in the absence of any inscriptions on the work itself, it would be impossible to know how the construction should be orientated. As it is, it is not known whether the blade should sit at the left or the right. It is reproduced here with the blade to the right partly because it has been shown that way in the past and partly because the landscape seems more legible.
The oar can be seen leaning against the wall in photographs of Lanyon's studio taken in 1958. Although the paint on its blade is not the same now as it was then, the shaft was white in 1958, whereas today it is black. It is not known when he made this change.
Peter Lanyon made three-dimensional
constructions throughout his career. From the 1930s, he combined materials such
as wood, glass and gelatine filters to make small objects rather like miniature
stage sets. In the 1950s, Lanyon considered his three-dimensional works more as
a tool for painting, they were, he said, 'experiments in space to establish the
illusion and content of the space in the painting'. From 1960, he produced (often
wall-based) assemblages which combined found objects, often studio detritus,
with oil paint, exhibiting them alongside his paintings.
Oarscape’s extended landscape format echoes
his 10m long commissioned oil Porthmeor Mural, which he completed in the same
year and another construction, Long Coast, which he was likely to have been working
on at the same time. Although sculptures and constructions were a pre-existing
aspect of Lanyon’s practice, his later wall-based constructions may have been
newly inspired by Kurt Schwitters whose work Lanyon had seen at Lords Gallery,
London, in 1958 and Robert Rauschenberg, whose work he also knew and admired.
Private Collection, 2006
London, Gimpel Fils, Peter Lanyon,
Reliefs, Constructions and Related Paintings, 20 May - 21 June 1975, cat
no.24 (dimensions given as 18.25 x 77.5 x 2 inches)
London, Camden Arts Centre, Peter Lanyon: air, land & sea,
Arts Council, 6 November – 20 December 1992, cat no. 34, illus colour, touring
Coventry, Mead Gallery, 11 January - 13 February 1993
Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery, 20 February - 18 April 1993
Penzance, Newlyn Art Gallery, 1 May - 13 June 1993
Victoria Art Gallery, Porthmeor: A Peter Lanyon Mural Rediscovered, 25
October 2008 - 4 January 2009, unnumbered
Andrew Lanyon, Peter Lanyon,
Andrew Lanyon and St Ives Printing and Publishing Company, Penzance, Cornwall,
1990, illus colour, p227
Patrick Heron, Margaret Garlake, Martin Holman, Peter Lanyon, Peter
Lanyon: air, land and sea, South Bank Centre Publications, London, 1992, illus
Toby Treves, Peter Lanyon:
catalogue raisonné of the oil paintings and three-dimensional works, Modern Art Press, St James Place, London, 2018, illus colour, p562
You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in our emails.