Findlay Galleries presents an exhibition of recent works from Contemporary British Romantic painter, Hugo Grenville. Grenville’s paintings are perfect embodiment the British romantic vision. Whether he paints a figure, landscape or seascape he wholly captures the emotion in the subject, in his signature pattern or patch work style full with color and light.
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Recognized today as one of Britain’s leading artists, Hugo Grenville passed through careers as a soldier and then an art dealer before turning full-time to painting in 1989. He had many solo exhibitions since his first in London in 1974, and his work hangs in many public and private collections internationally.
Grenville refers to himself as a romantic but acknowledges a fascination with pattern and color that places him in the tradition of Henri Matisse. The figures and the everyday objects that surround them in his paintings express his joy in life, light, and color. Less evident, but equally important, is a feeling of intimacy that recalls Matisse contemporaries, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard. It is here that we see Grenville being influenced by the principles of Les Nabis – a group of young post-impressionists, avant-garde Parisian artists of the 1890s who influenced the fine arts at the turn of the century. One of the Les Nabis’ goals was to integrate daily life into their paintings and cover a flat surface with colors assembled in a certain order, as we see Grenville doing with such grace and sensitivity. Layers of feeling peel back to disclose a spiritual intensity. In the artist’s words, “the world around us becomes a poem revealing something about how it feels rather than how it looks.” Grenville also describes himself as a colorist. His palette is bright and jaunty: lemon yellow, violet, mauve, and pale blue are colors that appear regularly in his paintings. “The sea does not have to be the blue that you saw,” he explains. “It can be pink, or it might be red, or it might be violet. There is this sense that we can use color as a tool for linking the viewer with the emotional experience of being in the landscape.”
Several years ago, Grenville and his family moved from London to the “Red House” in Waveney Valley, Suffolk. The house, dating to 1650, still has a Georgian façade, beautiful old shutters, and many other period details, Grenville’s passion for color, so evident in his art, lead him to paint the interior peacock green, duck egg blue, and violet – bright, bold hues the Georgians would have used. The rooms of the “Red House” have provided the backgrounds for most of Grenville’s interior and still life paintings. He paints almost ceaselessly in his vast garden studio, which he shares in summer with his many students. In addition to teaching, he is a gifted lecturer with extensive knowledge of art history and a writer whose articles on painting appear regularly in The Artist Magazine.
Grenville says, “My paintings are an unashamed and joyous celebration of life, a passionate defense of beauty and domestic harmony, steeped in the English Romantic tradition. I would like the work to stand as a symbol of promise, and to express our sense of existence through the recognition of the transforming power of color and light.
Through the arrangement of shape, line, pattern, and color, I try to conjure the lyrical and the dreamlike, a place at peace with itself. The still life and figure paintings do not generally represent an actual moment in time but are rather the result of a process of reflection, recollection, and reinvention, a distillation of human experience. The flowers in the jug or the nude on the bed belong not to now, but to all time, just as the abstract elements of color and light are timeless and connect us to both the past and the future, to the visible world, and to the invisible.”
“Hugo Grenville’s work may be informed by centuries of art history, from Botticelli’s idealization of beauty, to Patrick Heron’s love of textile, or Pollock’s celebration of the medium of oil paint, but he transcends all those to find an artistic expression that is entirely his own – canvases that capture the exuberance and timelessness of a romantic English vision.”
– Helen Rosslyn, Writer and Television Presenter
“Time seemed to slow down during this past year, which allowed me to distill my vision further by emphasizing our emotional relationship with color. I found that if I reduced my palettes to utilize only two primary colors rather than three, the two colors would be doing more work. This can be seen in A Stitch in Time where the gold hues of the floor run through the painting, holding the minty greens in check and balancing the pink of the young woman’s dress. A Stitch in Time contains no primary blue in its palette. In contrast, Summer in the Drawing Room contains mainly blue and no reds, heightening the contrast between our relationship with the indoors and the outdoors. This fascination with contrasting our thoughts and feelings about interior spaces with outside spaces is a theme that connects much of this new body of work.
In Distant Lives, Still Voices the reflection of the sitter draws the viewer into her thoughts, and then beyond to the wider world out of doors.
My work is a celebration of life and a passionate advocacy of the emotional power of both beauty and color. During 2020, with most of the UK confined to their homes, there has been ample opportunity to reflect on what it is about my principal subject, the interior, that I find so moving. The spaces we inhabit are so often an expression of the personalities who inhabit them, and these rooms become our comfort, give us peace, and offer us certitude.”
– Hugo Grenville
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)