Matthew Lanyon

Matthew Lanyon I was born in St Ives, Cornwall in 1951, one of six. My father was Peter Lanyon - a landscape painter who became a major figure in the world of art.

After the war St Ives had become a centre of the modern movement in abstract art and my father was commissioned to produce the painting Porthleven for The Festival of Britain. His mentors were Naum Gabo and Ben Nicholson. While I was tearing round the garden as Davy Crockett, movers and shakers of art were passing the sugar and spreading the cream.

Shortly before he died in 1964, as the result of a gliding accident, we spent some days together in his studio making a model aircraft. We made prototype wings out of polystyrene and tried to strengthen them with muslin and glue-size. Years later I read what someone had written about his painting Clevedon Night, which had these two prototype wings attached to the canvas. They might be 'boats bobbing up and down' but I knew what they were. They weren't boats. But it doesn't matter whether this was true or not. That isn't the point - we read our own life into paintings.

A few days with him in the studio, a few days camping out in the Thames van on Perranporth Airfield and he was gone. I was thirteen. He was forty-six. His death came into me like an ocean.

I was brought back from Bryanston to the local grammar school in Penzance. I won the art prize and thought about going on to art school but my mother said, 'You'll end up in a corner screaming.' This was the 1960's. In the 30's she'd had to do three years of drawing before they'd let her hold a brush. So that was that. It would be twenty-five years before I got the smell of paint again. I went on to university and joined the meritocracy - the beginning of the great unwinding of the class system. It was exciting. There was a political edge - we were on the streets.

Half a century later, I look back in wonder:
Upper class background, middle class education, university career in free-fall - I should have been a class disaster. The one saving grace in messing up is you get a new beginning. If you can realise that and shoulder the weight of having taken goodwill from others and shagged it you get a new beginning.

It was a terrible trade off but I got so much from four years at university starting with Geology and Psychology. In my last year I read History of Science, Archaeology and Linguistics. I was a burning fuse - changing courses and reading stuff that wasn't part of the brief. I was after something.

Four years in academia then a job on a tractor - working in the building trade, becoming physical. The tragedy and sadness of my loss was bearable. I trained as a carpenter and joiner. I handled many diverse materials - renovating four houses, subcontracting and working for other builders. I just learned so much.
It was not until 1988 that I began to take my artwork seriously. At that time I was drawing and painting every morning with my son, in the days before he went to school. He always had the best titles. I'd ask him about one of his drawings and he'd say with the absolute sincerity of a four-year-old, 'Three Cows Walking on the Water'.

Between my father and my son I had begun to address the problem of what anything is, or is meant to be in a painting. If cows could walk on water and bits of polystyrene that were once wings can bob up and down like boats, then painting is alive and the better for being marginalised by all the exquisite distractions of sound and movement.

Anima Mundi
305 x 92 cms
Ref. 17937