John Brunsdon 1933 - 2014
Whilst there are exceptions, the English creative imagination is deeply rooted in the countryside. Brunsdon is no exception. Interestingly, he fused the intellectual and the emotive with the topographical and the romantic traditions of English etching. An innovative paradox.
BRUNSDON was interested in man’s influence upon the landscape, the contrast between architecture and the countryside and the way in which man has sculpted the surface for his own use. His characteristic style reflects his acute understanding of the etching process. Meticulous craftsmanship is his hallmark. He took pleasure in the robust textural and decorative qualities of the etched marks and the sweeping shapes of broad colour, which fuse into relaxing timeless images. The poetic instinct could not be more in focus.
Brunsdon was not a city dweller, although he did record Britain ‘s heritage, which, by necessity, brought him in contact with the urban landscape. Nostalgic and evocative images such as The Tower of London (1989), St Paul’s Catherdal (1992) Lambeth Palace (1989), St Mary le Bow Church (1989) and now the Shakespearian Properties, are clear examples. Perhaps nothing could be more quintessentially English than Shakespeare’s Birthplace (1990), Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (1990), Stratford-upon-Avon and the Heart of England. Country houses such as Longleat House (1989), Waddesdon Manor (1989) and Moor Park Mansion from the Temple of the Winds (1987) are scenes of great lyrical charm which equally possess a powerful sense of genius loci. Ruined abbeys and castles have also found their place in Brunsdon’s vision.
It is not surprising then that there is a link with the Neo-Romantic tradition of John Piper, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland. Brunsdon’s Betjemanesque anglicanism may be seen in his plates for both Norwich and Ely Cathedrals (1990). As with Paul Nash, Brunsdon’s poetic and, to a lesser extent, mystical vision, is nourished by ancient or primeval sites as seen in Stonehenge (1977) and Avebury (1979). Earlier works of the 1960’s were decidedly abstract in form and reflected the American Abstract-Expressionists. Celtic Cross (1962), Dawn (1964) and Creen Obelisk (1966) are typical images which evoke an inner world and spiritual awakening.
After Cheltenham Grammar School and encouragement from his art master, Brunsdon enrolled at the Cheltenham School of Art in 1945, then under the direction of Stanley Dent, an etcher of some standing who had been taught at the Royal College of Art by Robert Austin. Austin in turn had been instructed by the influential Sir Frank Short. All three, Short, Austin and Dent had practised the tradition of working direct on the plate from nature. Dent was a lover of rural England and could be seen working at his Gloucestershire locations. Brunsdon, however, has never worked directly from nature. His method is to draw and photograph the subject and work out ideas in the studio.
Although Dent undoubtedly provided inspiration, it was Julian Trevelyan at the Royal College of Art, who, more than anyone else, provided a vigorous arid fundamental influence. It was Trevelyan who had opened up colour etching and aquatint after the post-war years. Artists had, in the main, produced black and white etchings which were hand watercoloured if so desired. Trevelyan chose to ink his etched plates with separate colours. Each colour applied to the appropriate area with a small piece of muslin. The image was printed and the process repeated for the next print. This is the method used by Brunsdon. It is time consuming and requires considerable skill in applying the colour evenly and accurately to stop smudging.
Brunsdon developed this technique and began to experiment with remarkable colour combinations. Yellow skys, vermillion frees and blue grass. Mixtures to heighten the senses. He had transformed the traditional approach to etching. The conjunction of colours possessed, and still possess, a special magic for Brunsdon.
In the decades that follow Brunsdon found inspiration in the landscapes of Wales, Cumbria, Dorset and Suffolk . They have provided a rich source of material. The rhythms of pattern, volume, space, mass and structure are handled with authority and have become, without force, a natural and integral part of his visual aesthetic. A tactile adventure in itself. The drawings, not only in pencil but upon the plate, show Brunsdon’s extraordinary powers of draftsmanship. Line is executed with authority, in a constant and fluid manner, drawn without angst. His images have a serene clam about them.
John Brunsdon was always found working in his studio before dawn had broken, producing work which is as figurative as it is likely to become.
P. T. J. R.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Arts Council of Great Britain
The British Council
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Numerous regional museums, art galleries and universities