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Gwyther Irwin

Lemon Street Gallery, Truro   7-28th February, 2009




His obituary in the Guardian newspaper in 2008 noted that Gwyther Irwin's show at Lemon Street would serve as a memorial to his life and work. Yet Irwin's links with Cornwall are not well-known. In fact as a participator in 'Situation' - like John Hoyland who has also had solo shows at Lemon Street, and Gillian Ayres who lives in Cornwall now - in 1960 he contributed to an exhibition which, more than any other, signalled the beginning of the end of the dominance of the St Ives School of abstract art.

So why is he showing in Truro? In fact Gwyther Irwin grew up in Trebetherick near Padstow, and died there in 2008 of Alzheimers disease, as a resident in the family home that had by a strange twist of fate, become a nursing home. Having been taught by Roger Hilton, he maintained his links with Cornwall and Cornish artists throughout his life, and his show at Lemon Street in 2009 was initiated by an informal contact between Louise Jones, the owner, and Irwin's wife.



After leaving Central School of Art, Irwin had immediate and quite spectacular success: showing gestural abstract painting with 'Gallery One' in London at the age of 24. At the age of 25, in 1957, he was included in the celebrated exhibition entitled: "Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract" at the Redfern Gallery. This was also the year in which Irwin took up paper collage, using mostly recycled paper from magazines and advertising hoardings, and the resultant works were universally well received:

"Gwyther Irwin's collages... are evidently miracles of patient assembly... they set out to achieve the subtlest and slowest possible shifts in tonality from umber darkness to creamy light and back again. The patience, the subtlety, the muted gradations of every effect combine to produce an atmosphere of studied beauty..." (The Times, 18 September 1959)



Hugely evocative photographs from the time show Irwin surrounded by great soggy piles of this raw material, which were later delivered by the lorry load to his studio at Bushey in Hertfordshire. From this residue of urban decay – discoloured and stained paper that had withstood rust, exhaust fumes and the London weather – Irwin made collages of great subtlety. These were the works shown in 'Situation', at three one man shows at Gimpel Fils in '59, '62 and '63, and in 1964 at the Venice Biennale. Four good examples were included in the Lemon Street show in the downstairs gallery.

Towards the end of the sixties Irwin went on to concentrate on making expansive and intricate reliefs out of wood, and in 1969 he became Head of Painting at Brighton College of Art. This somewhat slowed up his previously prolific output but he returned to painting, in the mid-seventies painting large canvasses of gently modulated colour, and between 1978 and 1982 he a series of 100 watercolours many of which were included in the Lemon Street show. The essay by Nick Wadley written for the exhibition describes Irwin's methodical and uncompromising way of working, applicable both to these works and to the works from the 80s and 90s also included in the show in Truro.



BIOGRAPHY (1931 -2008)

1932 Born in Hampshire
1932 to 1950 Lived at Trebetherick, North Cornwall
1949 Taught painting by Roger Hilton at Bryanston School, Dorset,.
1950 onwards Has lived in London.
1950-51 Studied at Goldsmiths College of Art
1951-54 Studied at Central School of Art & Design
1959-63 Visiting Lecturer, Bath Academy of Art, Corsham Court,
1966-68 Visiting Lecturer, Hornsey College of Art,.
1967-69 Visiting Lecturer, Chelsea School of Art,.
1969-84 Head of Fine Art, Brighton College of Art.
1996 Stopped painting.

Solo exhibitions & major group exhibitions (with more than five works by Gwyther Irwin).
All exhibitions held in London, unless otherwise stated.

1957 Gallery One, ‘Paintings by Gwyther Irwin’.
Redfern Gallery, ‘Metavisual, Tachiste, Abstract’.
1958 Institute of Contemporary Art, ‘3 Collagists: ELT Mesens, John McHale, Gwyther
1959 Gimpel Fils, ‘Exhibition of Works by Gwyther Irwin’.
1962 Gimpel Fils, ‘Collage: Gwyther Irwin’.
Copenhagen, ‘Sammenslutningen af Danske Kunstforeninger, Britisk Kunst’, Danish
touring exhibition.
1963 Manchester Institute of Contemporary Art, ‘Trend: Anthony Benjamin, Joe Tilson,
Gwyther Irwin’.
Gimpel Fils, ‘Recent works by Gwyther Irwin’.
1964 Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, ‘Young British Painters: Blow, Davie,
Hamilton Fraser, Frost, Irwin, Wynter’.
XXXII Venice Biennale, British Pavilion, Roger Hilton, Gwyther Irwin, Bernard
Meadows, Joe Tilson.
Zagreb, Moderna Galerija, ‘Britanski Umjetnici Na Bijenalu U Veneciji’.
Berlin, Kunstamt Reinickdorf, Venice Biennale Touring Exhibition: Hilton, Irwin,
Meadows, Tilson, travelling to Museen der Stadt Recklinghausen, and Kunstverein
1965 Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Roger Hilton, Gwyther Irwin, Bernard Meadows, Joe
1967 Gimpel Fils, ‘Gwyther Irwin Work in Progress 1957-1967’.
1970 Gimpel Fils, ‘Gwyther Irwin: New Reliefs’.
1973 New Art Centre, ‘Gwyther Irwin’.
1975 New Art Centre, ‘Gwyther Irwin’.
1977 New Art Centre, ‘Gwyther Irwin’.
1978 Newcastle, Polytechnic Gallery, Gwyther Irwin & Trevor Sutton.
1981 Cambridge, Kettle’s Yard Gallery, ‘Gwyther Irwin, The First Sixty: Watercolours and Related Oil Paintings’.
1987 Gimpel Fils, ‘Gwyther Irwin: A Retrospective’.
1992 Redfern Gallery, ‘Three Artists/Three Decades: Robyn Denny, John Hoyland, Gwyther Irwin’.
The Gallery at John Jones (in association with Redfern Gallery), ‘Gwyther Irwin:
Large Acrylics and Watercolours’.
1994 Redfern Gallery, ‘Gwyther Irwin: Recent Paintings’.
1995 Truro, Royal Cornwall Museum, ‘Gwyther Irwin: Paintings’.
1996 Bristol, Royal West of England Academy, ‘Gwyther Irwin: Paintings’, travelling to
Brighton University Art Gallery.
2006 Redfern Gallery, ‘Gwyther Irwin, Selected Works, 1957–1970’.

Selected group exhibitions
1953 RBA Galleries, ‘The Fifth Annual Exhibition of Young Contemporaries’.
1955 New Burlington Galleries, ‘Daily Express Young Artists Exhibition’.
1956 Gallery One, mixed exhibition.
1957 AIA Gallery, ‘Abstract’.
O’Hana Gallery, ‘Dimensions: British Abstract Art 1948-1957’.
Rome, Rome-New York Art Foundation, ‘New Trends in British Art’.
1958 Redfern Gallery, Summer Exhibition.
New Zealand, Auckland City Art Gallery, ‘British Abstract Painting’.
AIA Gallery, Print Exhibition.
RBA Galleries, ‘AIA 25: 25th Anniversary Exhibition’.
1960 Austria, Alpbach, Europaisches Forum, ‘Das Junge England’, travelling to Neue
Galeries der Stadt Linz.
RBA Galleries, ‘Situation: an Exhibition of British Abstract Painting’.
Arthur Tooth & Sons, ‘Denys Sutton: Critic’s Selection’.
1961 Rome, Rome-New York Art Foundation, ‘The Quest & the Quarry’.
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, ‘International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and
New York, Museum of Modern Art, ‘The Art of Assemblage’, travelling to Dallas
Museum for Contemporary Art, and San Francisco Museum of Art.
Brook Street Gallery, ‘Aspects of Collage’.
Paris, Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, ‘Deuxieme Biennale de Paris’.
Chicago, Illinois Institute of Design, ‘The Maremont Collection’.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, ‘The John Moores Liverpool Exhibition III’.
Marlborough New London Gallery, ‘New London Situation’.
1962 Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, ‘The Dana Collection’.
Arts Council, ‘Situation: an Exhibition of Recent British Abstract Art’, touring to
Cambridge Arts Council Gallery, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Hatton Gallery Newcastle,
Kettering Art Gallery, Liverpool Walker Art Gallery.
McRoberts & Tunnard Gallery, ‘Contrasts III’.
Congress House, ‘Festival of Labour, Exhibition of New Art’.
San Francisco, Museum of Art, ‘British Art Today’, travelling to Dallas Museum for
Contemporary Arts, and Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
1963 Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, ‘The John Moores Liverpool Exhibition IV’.
Tate Gallery & Whitechapel Art Gallery, ‘British Painting in the Sixties’.
Zurich Helmhaus, ‘Englische Malerei der Gegenwart’.
Arthur Tooth & Sons, ‘1962: One Year of British Art’ selected by Edward Lucie-Smith.
Gallery One, ‘Ten Years: Anniversary Exhibition’.
Newcastle upon Tyne, Stone Gallery, ‘Critic’s Choice’, selected by Philip James.
1964 Tate Gallery/Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, ‘54-64: Painting & Sculpture of a Decade’. Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, ‘Contemporary British Painting and Sculpture’.
Bochum, Stadtische Kunstgalerie, ‘Profile III: English Kunst der Gegenwart’.
Arts Council, ‘New Painting 61-64’.
ICA, Screenprint Project Exhibition.
1965 Paris, Fondation Maeght, ‘L’Art Vivant’.
Lissone, ‘Quattordicesimo Premio Biennale Internazionale di Pittura’.
Paris, Musee d’Art de la Ville de Paris, ‘20th Salon des Realites Nouvelles’.
1966 Belfast, Ulster Museum, 1966 Open Painting Exhibition.
1967 Pittsburgh, Museum of Art Carnegie Institute, 1967 Pittsburgh International.
Tate Gallery, ‘Recent Painting from the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation Collection’.
Bradford City Art Gallery, ‘Spring Exhibition 1967’.
Boston, 180 Beacon Street, ‘The 180 Beacon Collection of Contemporary Art’.
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, ‘The Alcoa Collection of Contemporary Art’.
1968 Saint-Paul de Vence, ‘Fondation Maeght, L’Art Vivant 1965-1968’.
1969 New York, Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, ‘Collector’s Choice’.
1969 Royal College of Art, ‘Fine Art for Industry’.
1970 Pittsburgh, Museum of Art Carnegie Institute, ‘1970 Pittsburgh International’.
1972 Brighton, Faculty of Art Design, Brighton Festival Exhibition.
Royal College of Art, ‘British Painting’.
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, ‘English Painting and Sculpture 1942-1972’.
1973 Arts Council, ‘The Square Collection: works bought for the Arts Council by Lord
1974 Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, ‘Contemporary British Painting’.
1975 Grenoble, Musee des Beaux-Arts, ‘Peinture Anglaise Contemporaine’, travelling to
Nancy, Bordeaux, Lille, and Strasbourg.
1976 Sheffield, Mappin Art Gallery, ‘British Painting 1900-1960’, touring to Aberdeen Art
1978 Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, ‘The John Moores Liverpool Exhibition XI’.
1980 Newcastle Polytechnic Art Gallery, ‘The Newcastle Connection’.
1983 Royal Academy of Arts, ‘53-83 Three Decades of Artists from Inner London Art
1984 Paris, ArtCurial, ‘English Contrasts: Peintres et Sculpteurs Anglais 1950-1960’.
New College Long Room, Oxford University, ‘Work on Paper by Nine Artists’.
1985 Royal Academy of Arts (& touring to Cambridge, Ipswich, Bradford, Newcastle),
‘Tolly Cobbold Eastern Arts Fifth National Exhibition’.
Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour, 173rd Annual Exhibition.
1986 Serpentine Gallery, ‘Recalling the Fifties’.
1987 Hull, Ferens Art Gallery, ‘History: The Mag Collection’.
1988 Gimpel Fils, ‘Fifteen British Artists of the Fifties’.
1989 Gimpel Fils, ‘The Broader Canvas: Large Format Paintings’.
Bath, Victoria Gallery ‘Corsham: Bath Academy of Art. A Celebration 1946-1972’,
travelling to Brighton Polytechnic Gallery and Michael Parkin Gallery.
1991 Gillian Jason Gallery, ‘Cabinet Paintings’.
Flowers East, ‘Small is Beautiful’.
1992 Arts Council, ‘Ready Steady Go! Paintings of the 60s from the Arts Council
1993 Barbican Art Gallery, ‘The Sixties Art Scene in London’.
2000 University of Brighton, ‘The Aldrich Collection’.
2003 Tate Liverpool, ‘Formal Situations: Abstract Art in Britain 1960-1970’.
2004 Bloomberg Space, ‘Collage’.
Tate Gallery, ‘Art & the 60s: This Was Tomorrow’.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Gwyther Irwin also exhibited in the following exhibitions: Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Singer & Friedlander Watercolour Exhibition, Hunting/Observer Art Prize, The London Group, and in various commercial gallery group exhibitions, and at art fairs in London and abroad.

Gwyther Irwin’s work is in many public and private collections worldwide, including Tate Gallery, British Council, Arts Council, Government Art Collection, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, CEMA Belfast, Yale University Art Gallery, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, MoMA New York, Pittsburgh Carnegie Museum, Minneapolis Walker Art Centre, Auckland City Art Gallery.