My pal and I took a trip out to Birmingham to see the thoroughly excellent Barber Collection, currently augmented by some lovely works from the National Gallery, and whilst on campus I suggested we detoured around to the Arts Building so I might take another look at the Peter Lanyon mural. It’s been thirty several years since I last took a very brief view of this work and I was surprised to see it still looking reasonably spruce. Ok so a sparks had taken a small chunk out of the bottom right hand edge to get a thirteen amp socket in but otherwise in pretty good nick. I wondered whether Lanyon had a particular location in mind for this piece…I’ll look it up and let you know maybe!
My interest in Lanyon goes right back to my youth. In the Museum & Art Gallery in Exeter there were, for most of my early teenage years, only four or five ‘modern’ pictures…I eventually knew them all. A Matthew Smith, a William Scott, Paul Nash…and a Lanyon. I have curated a Lanyon show (back at the Ikon) and have pretty much all the material published on him. This mural is mentioned (in glowing terms) in Andrew Causey’s text in the much sought after book from Aidan Ellis in 1971 but he doesn’t discuss it at all in his later book of 2006. Chris Stephens tells us a little more about the circumstances of the work in his book but not a great deal. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that Lanyon’s first visit to the site was in January 1963 but the commission was not undertaken until the summer of that year. In between Lanyon had spent time, time that had a profound influence on him, at San Antonio in Texas and made trips into New Mexico and Mexico itself. The images and impressions of that must have been right at the front of his mind whilst working on the Birmingham mural. The work was executed in a studio in St. Ives and, one imagines, that the construction, handling and colouration of the work must have been impacted upon by the experience. Maybe that’s why the picture sits a little oddly in Lanyon’s output – straddling two conceptions of what a land/sea scape might be?