Tony Porter, b.1945

An artist who works primarily in watercolour and who lives in a picturesque village near Rutland Water, Tony Porter often takes for his inspiration the landscapes of the area - the River Welland, the small villages and hamlets near Stamford, the stone churches and old abbeys, the big skies over farmland. Porter also travels somewhat further afield, to the grey stone villages of the Derbyshire Peak District, the shingle beaches of Dungeness, the cathedral of Wells. Thus, the subjects are often recognisable - but they are never trite. Porter manages to convey a curious mixture of the familiar and the universal: the west front of Wells cathedral is, surely, well-known - and yet it dissolves beneath atmospheric light and shadow, as the artist draws over the face of the monumental building a veil of evening light; the River Nene is, clearly, a flowing, watery channel and yet its dimensions are shrouded by an equally watery sky, the two elements united by brilliant autumn stems and leaves which thrust skywards and extend downwards, all captured in rippled reflections.

There are also many still-life paintings, especially flowers. Again, Porter clearly has an affection for the particular: favourite blossoms or leaves, often dark-hued, so that the rich range of colour, tone, surface – whether velvet or glossy, smooth or textured – can be invoked. Sometimes, the flowers and leaves are held by a bowl or a jug and the colour, decoration and glazes of these receptacles add to the pictorial orchestration. Just as in the landscape paintings, however, there is no easy definition of line, space or form. Skeins of translucent colour swell, recede and bathe the whole picture, so that a simple grasp of solid and space becomes irrelevant.

These watercolours, despite their delicate luminosity, have considerable authority. Given the conventions and constraints of the medium – especially when it is freely used, in wet-on-wet mode – the pictures are often surprisingly large in scale, thus demanding a good deal of technical command. They are not, at first glance, unrecognisable images: a feature or abbreviated detail may be thrust to the foreground of the picture-plane, which is further enlivened by washes and scratches of colour. While the viewer addresses this surface activity, the images, marks, hues and spaces in the background seem to surge and ebb, creating a sense of an atmosphere which is reverberating, indeterminate, without vanishing point or limit. One is reminded of the masterful watercolours of the late Leslie Worth, who successfully evoked both a grasp of the particular and a vision of panoramic space and atmosphere with a few, spare, touches of wet wash.

Tony Porterís paintings are often deceptive in their simplicity. They conjure a comfortingly familiar image; and then, with diffuse and glancing splashes of colour, they yield a hint of the universe.

© Dr. Hilary Taylor, 2012