John Blockley (1921 – 2002) was an innovative watercolour painter that defied the rules to create a unique visual language. He used this to paint figure, landscape and still life works that were full of atmosphere – evoked by beguiling palettes and textures that really stretched the definition watercolour painting. John was a Royal West of England Academician, twice elected President of the Pastel Society in the 1980’s, and was also a member of the Royal Institute of Watercolours and the New English Art Club. This year, John’s daughter – celebrated artist Ann Blockley – has brought out a book of her father’s work and is currently preparing an exhibition to bring John Blockley’s paintings to a new audience, and show just how exciting they still are.
Lisa: Please tell us about this new book of John Blockley’s work. What is in it and why is now the right time to bring out a book about John’s work?
Ann: John had a profound effect on the art world through his books, teaching and paintings. The influence can be seen to this day in the work of many artists including those within the art societies that he belonged to.
He wrote many books on painting between 1979-2000 and they were all best sellers. The existing books, all now out of print and much sought after, each covered a particular aspect of painting. They were based either on subject or medium using the particular style he used at the time. However, John continually changed and developed his choice of medium and technique. This resulted in a series of distinctly different styles which were linked through the practice of drawing . These different aspects of his work had never been featured together within a book. His later work was contemporary, vibrant and radically different to his older style. It felt right that this progression should be demonstrated now in the form of a new book, of interest to the old fans but also introducing it to a new set of modern artists.
Lisa: You’ve also been hard at work preparing for an exhibition of John’s work. What paintings will be on show and how easy was it to select what you felt should be exhibited?
Ann: There is a wide range of artwork in the exhibition. Pastels, acrylics and watercolours. Big and small. Framed and unframed. Landscapes, moorlands, buildings, seascapes, flowers and still-life. Inevitably there is more of the later work than the earlier ones but there are a number of these little gems. I also discovered a box of stunning original lithographs- the only ones John made. Finally there are hundreds of sketches and working drawings. It’s all a bit overwhelming .
Lisa: John was clearly a big inspiration and influence on your own artwork. What qualities in particular do you most admire in his paintings?
Ann: I admire his ability to change and progress with his work without being complacent. It is this rather than any particular painting technique that has inspired me the most. However, if I have to choose one thing, it would be the drawing skills that underpin all his work.
Lisa: Did you ever paint with your father, and do you remember anything distinctive about his approach to painting?
Ann: I never painted with my father although when I was six he did take me with him to a coalmine to do some drawing! I remember asking for help a few times as a child and had a few ‘light bulb‘ moments. For example how to represent the cornfield behind my scarecrow painting (it did not have to include every stalk!) or how to paint the stems within a glass of water (wet and smudge them – wow- I didn’t need to keep within the lines!)
The most distinctive thing about his approach was the extent of his obsession with it.
Lisa: What key lessons on painting did you learn from your father, either from advice he gave or just from observing him?
Ann: I think the really big lesson has been to do with interpretation – the search for a key personal statement to make about something seen or sensed and making that the goal for the picture.
Lisa: Do you have a favourite painting of his and if so can you describe it to us?
Ann: To only pick one is impossible -my favourites probably change daily! However I do love the later, contemporary, semi abstract landscapes, with or without buildings in. The colourful, layered textures of paint on board, scraped back and added to with additions of singing pastel accents are the ones that I choose to hang in my own house.
Lisa: When and where can we see the John Blockley exhibition?
Ann: I decided to keep it informal so it is at my own studio – turned into a gallery for the exhibition. It is at Church View, Todenham, Near Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire.
Open: September 8th- 15th ( closed Monday 10th) 11am- 4pm.
Lisa: What are the details of the book?
Ann: John Blockley- A Retrospective, compiled by Ann Blockley was published by Batsford. 144 pages, hardback, RRP £25.
‘John Blockley – A Retrospective’ is available from Jacksonsart.com at a special price of £20 (RRP £25) Click here to view
Header Image: Pembrokeshire Cottages by John Blockley, Watercolour, c.1988